SAN FRANCISCO – Ja Morant came out limping, the Golden State Warriors took off, then Taylor Jenkins and the Grizzlies sounded out.
Every game, it’s something new in this young versus old versus new kids qualifier series. You can’t tell if this is the start of a contentious rivalry or independent singles events that happen in such close proximity.
Morant, the star of the edgy and resilient Grizzlies, appears to have injured his knee. The Grizzlies then pointed in the direction of Warriors guard Jordan Bull, claiming he grabbed Morrant’s right knee during play with 6:55 left in the fourth quarter in the Warriors’ resounding win in Game 3 at Chase Center.
It is impossible to determine the intent, especially in slow motion as Faith must be suspended at such a moment so that Paul can purposely grab Morant’s knee while he and Andrew Wiggins corner him.
Paul’s arm made contact with Morant’s knee as he reached out for the ball, but the amount of torque and force in that contact is anyone’s guess, and it’s a matter of interpretation.
Morant tweeted and later deleted a video clip of the play, with the caption “code-breaking” – a strong indication that Paul was committing a dirty infraction.
Implicitly or not, the Grizzlies make it known for what they believe in and want attention. It is part skill at play, part sadness, part naivety, and the stalemate of the playoffs.
“It seemed to me that they hit their knees before he even got to them,” Draymond Green said. “That’s kind of what I thought I saw.”
Green was at the center of the first melee of sorts in this bizarre series with his blatant 2 foul on Brandon Clarke in Game 1. Clarke looked like a sloppy Green player in his post-match press conference.
On Saturday, it was Jenkins’ turn on the podium, and while he didn’t go as far as Clark, it’s another match where the Grizzlies, after losing, point his finger in the Warriors’ direction.
It’s a 2-1 series now, but one wonders if the Warriors were able to outsmart their opponents. Being physical is one thing, but it seems certain that warriors have taken real estate in the Grizzlies’ psyche.
“He was chasing a dribble and Jordan Bull grabbed his knee and pulled it, which caused it all,” Jenkins said. “So I’d be very curious to see what happens next.”
That’s probably as strong a call to action for an NBA to review the play as it could be for someone in the Jenkins position – a good coach but who doesn’t have the footprint on the league scene to rattle down a franchise with championship justice.
More importantly, it masks the fact that the Warriors handed a 2015-like defeat to the Grizzlies, which illustrates the gap between the two teams. The Grizzlies are still agonizing about stopping Dillon Brooks after his blatant 2 foul on Warriors guard Gary Payton II – who will miss the rest of the series, if not all of the post-season, with a broken left elbow.
They missed his defense and his fury on a night when the Warriors got everything they wanted, but Morant’s possible absence would effectively end the series, if not already. The Grizzlies have been doing great without Morant this season, going 20-5 when he was out, but that’s a little different, as he’s in the midst of a playoff streak against an opponent who seems to be getting stronger by the day.
This prospect has alarmed startups, and it’s possible that Jenkins knows his personal future is tied to his relationship with Morant. Morant’s reckless style – recklessly sexy, recklessly effective and dangerous, for himself and his opponents.
He single-handedly prevented the Grizzlies from getting hit by a larger margin with drives and dunks and hitting open triples in a clip that hardly anyone expected to enter the series.
It evokes memories of Allen Iverson during his heyday and perhaps more recently, a healthy young Derek Rose. There are gasps audible every time Morant hits the ground, usually after some shape-shifting, mind-bending throw that seems to defy logic.
But with the painful examples, it always seems like it’s an awkward move or he falls hard from his knees and turns into s’mores and turns history back. It’s hard to pinpoint the movement that puts Morant’s body in harm’s way since he often limps and then pops like Iron Man – wounded but fighting.
Prior to the injury, one could argue that he was the best player on Earth on Saturday with 34 points and seven assists. The problem is, there were three Warriors who were as good as Morant in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and yes Paul.
“Ja makes a great series,” said Grizzlies replacement Desmond Payne. “Jordan Paul reached out and grabbed his knee and sort of put it in an awkward position. It’s a pity.”
Paul is a rising star, this season and in the playoffs as he opens his eyes. At the time of the apparent injury, the Warriors led 115-97 and were putting the finishing touches to Sterling’s performance.
Paul doesn’t seem to have the rap of others who didn’t benefit from the doubt, and whether or not a player is dirty has no bearing on a single play.
“It’s unfortunate that there is a conversation now because obviously no one wants to see anyone get hurt,” said Carey. But there is nothing malicious about what Jordan did. There is no comparison. It’s not a joke that Ja got hurt, but the rest is a total bachelor’s degree as far as the conversation goes.”
Carey called it the “hot stove connection” and wanted to end the discussion there.
When asked about the entirety of the Grizzlies’ accusations during the series, Greene seemed amused.
“They’re the most physical team, right? Historically, we’ve been seen as a very thin team, jump right in, right? That’s what it’s been like since I’ve been here. But draw, draw away.”
The Warriors hit everything they threw at them on Saturday, and it’s one of the most effective and complete shows they’ve given in some time. Maybe you’ll give them an extra edge for Game 4 on Monday instead of praising them for 48 hours.
The DNA of the title team is still there, even if it hasn’t been considered the favorite in the West. Dealing with the rhythms of a series interlude isn’t new to this franchise, while it’s a relatively new ride for the Grizzlies.
“No, I’m not going to sit here and take a stand,” Green said. “We have a basketball game to win on Monday.”