The Memphis Grizzlies outplayed the Golden State Warriors down the stretch to even their second-round series at a game apiece, in a contest defined by Dillon Brooks’ brutal cheap shot that leveled Gary Payton II and knocked him out of the playoffs with a broken elbow.
Unlike the flagrant two foul that led to Draymond Green’s Game One ejection, there’s absolutely no debate about Brooks’ play, unless you’re Skip Bayless. Brooks was rightfully ejected, but Memphis would surely take the loss of Brooks for a game in exchange for the loss of Payton for the series. Second later, Green took an elbow to the face from Xavier Tillman and headed to the locker room as the Memphis crowd cheered. Barely three minutes into the game, the Warriors had two starters getting medical treatment in the locker room. Apparently that’s what Memphis meant by coming out and playing more physical in Game Two.
Draymond went to the locker room after taking an elbow to the face pic.twitter.com/RI4GQH9vwV— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 4, 2022
In a move that evoked Klay Thompson after his ACL tear in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals, GPII to remained in the game to split his two free throws after the flagrant foul/assault with a deadly windup. It’s not clear if or how long Brooks will be suspended for his actions, though the code of Hammurabi would dictate that he has to play with one arm in a sling until Payton returns. When he does, Brooks will face the wrath of the Chase Center crowd, which figures to respond with some strongly-worded Yelp reviews, where they explain that they’re not mad at Brooks, just disappointed. It may rattle him when the crowd begins snapping every time he touches the ball, or reads the signs announcing that he’s been “#Cancelled.” And if ever wants to trade cryptocurrency in this town, well, Brooks can forget about it!
Steve Kerr didn’t wait to express his anger, screaming at Brooks and after the first quarter interview he said, “That wasn’t physical, that was dirty,” which is wildly controversial for a mandatory TNT interview.
After the game, Kerr said Brooks “broke the code,” and while Brooks certainly should be suspended, talking about “the code” feels like what opposing managers say when the Giants steal bases up six runs in the fifth inning. It was dirty, and it was dangerous, but discussions of breaking the code belong in a biopic about Alan Turing in World War II, not an NBA press conference. Or a Fast and Furious movie where Ludacris has to open an expensive safe.
Ja Morant scored 47 points, in a transcendent performance we might not see anytime soon in the playoffs, added eight rebounds and eight assists. In the first quarter, he scored 14 points and assisted on another 12 Of course, one reason we won’t see that is that it’s very rare for a superstar’s teammate to send his primary defender to the hospital, three minutes into a game. The Warriors certainly couldn’t stop Morant down the stretch, but part of that was that his main defender had a broken elbow.
Payton actually matched Brooks’s scoring output in Game One of the series. Though he stands 6’3” on a good day, he was perhaps the Warriors primary post threat. Though the Warriors got a dose of that with 14 minutes of Jonathan Kuminga action, but on a night where three-pointers simply would not fall, they really could’ve used the 4 to 6 easy dunks and lobs that Payton’s cutting ability and nose for the basketball seem to always provide.
Steph Curry led the Warriors with 27 points, almost single-handedly keeping them in the game as the wheels threatened to come off in the first quarter. Well, get blasted off by a roadside bomb might be the better analogy. He added nine rebounds and eight assists, while Jordan Poole had 20 points and five dimes. Draymond led the way with ten rebounds, as the Warriors actually out-boarded the bigger Grizzlies 52-47 - though some of that was due to their own wretched outside shooting.
For the Grizzlies, Jaren Jackson Junior’s hot shooting didn’t continue, as he finished with 12 points and went 3-14 from the field. The player who did come through was 20-year-old rookie Ziarie Williams, who had 14 points and hit four of his eight three-point attempts, a huge effort for a team lacking any scoring punch outside of Morant. Brandon Clarke went 4-4 and had ten points, three of those buckets coming on dunks. The real team-wide effort came in stealing the ball, where Memphis racked up 13 takeaways, with eight different players getting swipes.
Klay Thompson had another rough game in Memphis, shooting 5-19 and 2-12 from deep, one day after shooting 6-19, and blowing two free throws late. After Game One, he talked about playing “angry“ which seems to also mean “way too horny for points.“ Klay wasn’t just inaccurate; he was forcing up shots in a very desperate manner, as if putting his personal need to put points on the board ahead of the team concept.
After the game Stephen Curry said “We let one get away in terms of some self-inflicted wounds, some turnovers, some shot selections.” Sure, he was talking about himself, after logging a Come Original from three-point range (3-11). But it seemed clear that he was mostly describing his Brother in Splash, Klay Thompson. In one stretch of the third quarter, with the Warriors down only four points, Klay reacted as if it was the final seconds of the game, forcing up two low-percentage step back jumpers from the baseline, neither of which went in. And the over eagerness that he displayed in a shot selection became manifest in his body in the final minute. Down three, which is really one chance to level the score, the Warriors didn’t even get up a shot, after Klay caught the ball during a broken play and traveled. Not that it mattered, since he left the subsequent shot off the front iron anyway.
Morant scored at will in crunch time, taking on whatever perimeter defender the Warriors threw at him. Morant scored 18 of the Grizzlies’ 29 points in the 4th, including their last 15 points of the game. He outscored the Warriors 15-6 by himself. And the veteran Warriors let the game slip away with Morant leading a contingent of young players down the stretch, none older than 25 (third-year big man Brandon Clarke).
grizzlies closed with— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) May 4, 2022
ja morant (22)
deanthony melton (23)
hurt bane (23)
ziaire williams (20)
brandon clarke (25, disgusting)
i am cackling
Two consecutive three-pointers from Curry gave the Warriors a 95-91 lead, one of them a bank shot from 26 feet.
It looked like taking both games in Memphis was a very real possibility. Morant came back with a layup, but the Warriors successfully ran a play that seemed designed to foul out Jackson, and following his departure, Jordan Poole’s layup upped the lead to four again. After some Warriors misses, Morant’s fifth three-pointer of the night gave Memphis a one-point lead, and Curry responded with a layup. Morant dropped Poole with a spin move and bounced in a short jumper to give Memphis the lead again, and then Jackson’s replacement went to work.
DeAnthony Melton is only 6’2”, while Jaren Jackson’s 6’11,” but Melton still elevated to block Curry’s layup, timing it perfectly to hit the ball juuuuust short of a goaltend. Melton was a menace defensively in the fourth, blocking Curry and Poole and stealing the ball from Curry twice. Jackson’s committed 40 fouls in eight playoff games this year, but the Warriors can’t take advantage when his replacements are playing better than him. The Warriors secured the rebound, and Klay followed with his tenth missed three of the game.
Finally, the Warriors got a rough whistle in the final seconds, after Morant missed from deep and so did Ziaire Williams. Look, the referees were a huge upgrade on the Kane Fitzgerald Show from Game One (Why must Warriors fans always contend with a loose cannon named Fitzgerald?), but they really blew it here, as Draymond Green was called for a loose ball foul simply for getting the rebound near Ja Morant. Morant nailed the free throws, he and Green traded buckets, and then Klay’s travel ended things.
Ejecting Dylan Brooks was certainly justified but honestly ended up being a bonus for the grizzlies. Taylor Jenkins is a good coach, but he can be a little bit conservative in his lineups, namely, not always playing his best lineups. And many of those lineups contain players who don’t start: Tyus Jones, DeAnthony Melton, and Kyle “Slo Mo “Anderson. The simple answer is, DeAnthony Melton is really good.
Often, the Grizzlies are better when they have Ja Morant and four bench guys, rather than their ostensible starters, as happened down the stretch. Yes, they missed Brooks’ scoring. But they also missed his rampant fouling. Brooks led the league in total fouls the last two years, racking up a staggering 278 in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. Maybe he slows down Steph Curry, but he’s almost guaranteed to put the Warriors in the bonus early. The only guy in the NBA who regularly fouls more than Brooks is Jackson.
What truly killed the Warriors was not Morant’s relentless drives to the basket, but his newfound accuracy from deep, when he shot 5-11 from three-point range. As Bob Fitzgerald would say, “He hit that one from Graceland!” In Game One as well, the Warriors strategy on Morant seemed to be to give him the outside shots, choosing the unpredictable outside attack from the very predictable layup or foul at the rim. That doesn’t work when he’s outshooting all three Splash Brothers, with nine triples on 39% accuracy in the playoffs so far. If Ja is hitting stepbacks, NBA defenders are in a tremendous amount of trouble.
In general, the three-point disparity is killing the Warriors. Jaren Jackson Jr. has as many threes as Steph Curry, while Thompson has just one more triple than DeAnthony Melton and Ziaire Williams in the series so far. All this while the Grizzlies’ actual three-point ace, Desmond Bane, is scuffling with a sore back. You’d expect the Warriors to improve - 18% is pretty bad - but Memphis deserves a ton of credit for contesting and even blocking a lot of these efforts. Klay Thompson shoots better at home, but the Grizzlies shoot better on the road.
After going down by double digits halfway through the third quarter, the Warriors put up a big rally. At the beginning of the third-quarter, they missed a series of three pointers, three on one single possession after they hustled for two offensive rebounds. What got them back to even? Taking the layups that they were able to get with their Cuisinart offense, and Memphis still trying to deny the three-point attack that never truly arrived. Wiggins hit his one three-pointer of the game, bouncing back after a brutal 0-5 first quarter, then hit two free throws. How did he get back into the game? A monster dunk on Brandon Clarke certainly helped.
The frontcourt combination of Otto Porter Jr. (a team-leading +17 for the game) and Jonathan Kuminga countered the Grizzlies’ speed and led to a lot of Memphis fouls and some easy buckets, including a Kuminga dunk that gave the Dubs an 83-80 lead before Draymond and Steph checked back in.
Draymond Green will be looking at a fine from the league after he flipped off the Memphis crowd on his way out early in the first quarter. “You want to boo somebody who got elbowed in the eye with blood running down their face? It felt good to flip them off.”
The teams get three days off before Game Three, which should help Desmond Bane’s back but not Payton’s elbow. Golden State needs to figure out some answers in perimeter defense, whether that’s Kuminga, Damion Lee, or some spot minutes from Moses Moody. But more than anything, they need to start making some threes. Morant went for 47, but they still only gave up 106 points. If the jumpers start splashing again, they can overcome being short-handed. And maybe sign Zaza Pachulia to a one-day contract to deal with Brooks.