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On this day in NBA Finals history: Draymond Green’s altercation with LeBron James triggers Game 5 suspension

Did Green cost the Warriors the 2016 title?

What if Draymond Green had played in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals? Would the Golden State Warriors have blown a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers? Would the Cavs have delivered their city its first title in 52 years? Would Golden State now be chasing a three-peat, instead of facing Cleveland in a championship rubber match?

It’s hard not to ask these questions, because one moment in last year’s Finals changed the entire shape of the series. With less than three minutes remaining in Cleveland’s Game 4 win on June 10, 2016, chippiness between Green and Cavalier LeBron James escalated. Whether intentional or not, James shoved Green to the hardwood before stepping over him as he attempted to get back in the play. Green responded with a swing of his arm to James’ groin and, once he rose from the floor, another swing to James’ body. The two players had to be separated by referees and teammates. Both were assessed fouls.

“Some of the words that came out of his mouth was a little overboard,” James said after the game. “Being a guy with pride, a guy with three kids, things of that nature, some things just go overboard. That’s where he took it.”

The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears later reported the details of the verbal altercation:

According to sources, Green looked James dead in the face and called him a “b—-.”

One NBA player in earshot of the trash-talk told The Undefeated that James responded by saying that he was the father of three kids and a man.

Green responded back, according to the player, by saying: “You’re still a b—-.”

Upon further review of the play, the league office assessed Green with a flagrant 1 foul — his third of the 2016 postseason.

Green was called for his first flagrant on the last possession of Game 3 in a first-round series against the Houston Rockets:

His second flagrant came in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder on a kick felt around the world:

The third strike forced Green to sit out of Game 5 of the Finals while serving a one-game suspension. In Green’s absence, the Cavs won 112-97 to cut Golden State’s series lead to 3-2. Cleveland then took the next two contests to become the first team in Finals history to overcome a 3-1 deficit.

Green will forever have to live with the consequences of his actions in Game 4, and the entire 2016 playoffs. Who knows, the altercation with James could have cost the Warriors a championship. What Green is certain of, however, is what the outcome of Game 5 would’ve been had the NBA not cracked down on him.

“I have a strong belief that if I play Game 5,” Green said before Game 6, “we win.”

When it comes to the 2016 Finals, it’s hard not to think, what if?

Aaron Dodson is an associate editor at The Undefeated. Often mistaken for Aaron Dobson, formerly of the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, he was one letter away from being an NFL wide receiver.