The Golden State Warriors second game against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals got off to an ominous start. Jaren Jackson Jr. made a three on Memphis’ first possession, and Ja Morant followed suit on their second. A few moments later, and the Dubs were down 8-0.
And then came the biggest play of the game. Gary Payton II looked like he had a clear shot at the rim but, after rising high to put the ball in, was smacked across the head from behind by Dillon Brooks.
GP2 takes a hard fall after getting fouled by Dillon Brooks.— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 4, 2022
Brooks was given a Flagrant 2 foul and has been ejected from Game 2pic.twitter.com/FPLHkcIkx3
It was a scary play, a dangerous play, and in the very accurate words of Steve Kerr, a dirty play.
Brooks was ejected after being given a Flagrant 2 foul, and, more importantly, Payton would not return to the game after injuring his elbow.
And the loss of GPII, one of the league’s top on-ball perimeter defenders, was huge. Ja Morant — the primary reason that Payton is in the starting lineup — carved the Warriors apart all night. It didn’t matter who the Dubs put on him — Morant either blew by them, forced a foul, or knocked in a three.
Morant is a superstar, so Payton wasn’t going to stop him. But would GPII have slowed Morant down just enough for the Warriors to win?
Perhaps. But we’ll never know.
A play after losing Payton, the Warriors temporarily lost Draymond Green, after he was hit in the face and needed stitches, which kept him out until the second quarter. But their resilience showed in a big way. They refused to fold, and stayed within shouting distance the entire first half. They quickly fell behind by double digits in the third quarter, but again bounced back, tying the game at the end of the quarter.
They scored to open up the fourth, which gave them their first lead of the game. And from there the teams went back and forth. Golden State led for much of the fourth quarter, albeit by a very slim margin, but a Morant three with 2:27 remaining gave Memphis the lead once more, and suddenly FedExForum was popping.
The Dubs had their chance in the final minute, but their first possession resulted in a bucket that was immediately matched by Morant, and their second possession ended in a Klay Thompson travel.
When the buzzer rang the Grizzlies had won 106-101 to tie the series. Morant had dropped a stunning 47 points on 16-for-31 shooting, with 8 rebounds and 8 assists, and given life to his whole team.
Steph Curry finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, but shot just 11-for-25. Thompson and Andrew Wiggins struggled offensively, combining to shoot just 11-for-35, and 3-for-19 from three-point range. The Warriors were done in by an equal amount of sloppiness (they had 20 turnovers) and cold hands from distance (they shot just 18.4% from beyond the arc). That, combined with a heavy dose of Ja, proved just a little too much to overcome.
Game 3 is Saturday night at Chase Center. And while the Warriors will probably have a tense flight home as they deal with the disappointment of seeing victory slip through their fingers, they have to be fairly optimistic going forward.