Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II went up for a transition layup, three minutes into the first quarter of game two of their best-of-seven playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies.
That move was followed by Dillon Brooks coming full speed from behind and fouling Payton across the head, sending him sprawling to the floor at an awkward angle. The fall fractured Payton’s left elbow. Following the game, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr `called the play dirty.
Memphis' Dillon Brooks gets tossed for this foul on Golden State's Gary Payton II.
Two games, two ejections between the Warriors and Grizzlies.
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) May 4, 2022
“I don’t know if it was intentional but it was dirty,” said Kerr. “This is a guy who’s been toiling the last six years trying to make it in this league. Finally found a home, playing his butt off this year in the playoffs. This should be the time of his life and guy comes in and whacks him across the head in midair. He broke the code. Dillon Brooks broke the code. That’s how I see it.”
Steve Kerr: “Dillon Brooks broke the code.”
Here is Kerr’s full soundbite on the foul that injured Gary Payton II pic.twitter.com/QALedINMYo
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 4, 2022
You can understand Kerr’s anger. It’s the emotions of the playoffs and their best on ball defender against Ja Morant will likely miss the rest of the series. He’s going to feel some kind of way and defend his player.
ESPN’s Tim Legler took a more measured approach and said that Brooke’s foul did cross a line. He didn’t call it dirty.
.@LegsESPN reacts to Dillon Brooks Flagrant 2 foul on Gary Payton II.
“I do think it did cross a line because of the force with which he hit him on a blind hit.” pic.twitter.com/iPKkqokJTU
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) May 4, 2022
This is the playoffs. Every player and coach knows about the “no-layup” rule. Basically it means you’re just not going to let the opponent waltz into the lane for easy buckets without them feeling some physicality.
All you old head basketball fans like that type of thing, right?
There are a couple of things at play here with this incident: the manner in which Payton II fell to the ground, and the resulting fractured elbow. These were among the worst possible outcomes in this scenario, so it makes the flagrant 2 foul look even worse.
When you are racing down the court and you take off and are now mid-air, as a player you are in a vulnerable position. Any other force applied to a player mid-air has the potential for a catastrophic ending.
Brooks was racing behind to catch Payton II and make a play on the ball; both men are rising and Brooks’ aggressive swing makes contact with Payton II’s head. As Payton II is falling to the ground, he instinctually puts his arm out to brace his fall and the impact and force cause a fracture of the elbow. It’s physics.
The flagrant 2 foul and ejection made for a correct call, no doubt about it. But now the idea that Brooks should be suspended and that he’s a dirty player; that’s going a bit far.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 4, 2022
Brooks does not have a history of being involved in questionable plays that wind up injuring players. If this was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Patrick Beverley or the Warriors own Draymond Green, maybe you’d look a little differently at the play.
Green was assessed a flagrant 2 foul in game one of this series for his foul on Brandon Clarke.
In both cases, the players attempted a play on the ball. They both missed and made contact with the head and face area of the fouled player. Both men Brooks and Greene immediately went to try and see if the fouled player was ok, which indicates neither foul was intentional.
It’s playoff basketball and sometimes players commit hard fouls that cross the line. Sometimes hard fouls cause injuries and sometimes they don’t. It’s just a bit of bad luck for Payton II and the Warriors.