Skip to main content

Ja Morant leads Grizzlies to Game 2 win over Warriors

Placeholder while loading article actions

MEMPHIS — Still three months shy of his 23rd birthday, Ja Morant has moved beyond “fan favorite” and “franchise player” to settle comfortably as a full-fledged Memphis icon.

The third-year guard is all over the NBA’s smallest television market: he appears on billboards, murals and bar windows, and various iterations of his jerseys, dating back to his days at Crestwood High and Murray State, dot the FedEx Forum crowd. Morant’s athleticism, basketball smarts, self-confidence, and charisma make him a coach’s pet and a trader’s dream. Every night, he could be trending on social media for a highlight dunk, a one-line quip, or a rousing rendition of his signature Griddy dance.

Morant had the best game of his young career on Tuesday, posting 47 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to lead the Grizzlies to a 106-101 victory in Game 2 over the Golden State Warriors. That contest, which was marred by bad blood and multiple injuries, was a ‘must-win’ in Morant’s eyes after a last-second loss in Game 1, in which he committed a late turnover. crucial and wildly missed a potential winner. at the buzzer. Beyond the obvious redemption in his rebounding performance, Morant seized the opportunity to position Memphis as a competitive equal to Golden State.

What to know about the 2022 NBA playoffs

The Warriors entered this second-round series as favorites thanks to their championship pedigree and vast playoff experience, but Morant made sure the Grizzlies weren’t bullied or starstruck. Early in Game 1, he announced Memphis’ bold intentions with a chest-to-chest trade with Draymond Green. After Game 2, he was happy to deliver “a few friendly words” to Stephen Curry.

“After Game 1, [Curry] came to me and Jaren [Jackson Jr.]”, Morant explained. “He said, ‘It’s going to be a battle. We’re going to have fun. I was able to return that message tonight, saying the same thing. I always say it’s my favorite game , play against a guy like him.

For Morant, Tuesday was a night for talking trash and creating myths. At the end of the third quarter, he took a blow to the face which left him with blurred vision in his left eye. The injury forced him to seek treatment in the locker room, and Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said his star “needs to reset his vision”.

Morant eventually came back with just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, missing his first two shots as he tried to find his bearings. But the final six minutes ended up being a blur for everyone in the noisy building, as Morant went into takeover mode and scored Memphis’ final 15 points. By the end of the night, he had tied the franchise’s playoff scoring record, which he had already set last year against the Utah Jazz.

During the home stretch, Morant was able to score on five different Golden State defenders: he passed Curry for a layup; slipped past Klay Thompson for another; double clutch on Green for a third; drilled a three-point step back; hitting a float in the paint after knocking Jordan Poole down with a spinning motion; and drained a runner on Andrew Wiggins.

To seal the victory, Morant made a pair of free throws with 13.2 seconds left. He then let out a squeal of satisfaction near the Memphis bench and mischievously informed reporters that he had been unable to see clearly out of his left eye during the fourth quarter.

“Honestly, no,” Morant said. “I have another good eye over here: 20-20 vision over here. Thank goodness for my right eye.

While Morant could laugh at his optical mishap, the Warriors were angry over a pair of first-quarter mishaps that left them battered and bloodied. Less than three minutes into the game, Dillon Brooks received a blatant two and was sent off for a blow to the head of Gary Payton II during a transition play. The force of Brooks’ blow sent Payton crashing down the field, and X-rays later revealed the 29-year-old guard had fractured his left elbow.

The Warriors bench immediately reacted with anger and outrage, and coach Steve Kerr was still seething during his postgame press conference.

“It was dirty,” Kerr said of Brooks’ foul. “Playoff basketball is supposed to be physical. Everyone will compete and fight for everything, but there is a code in this league and a code that players follow. You never put a guy’s season [or] career in jeopardy. Taking someone out in the air, bludgeoning them over the head and finally fracturing Gary’s elbow. [Payton] is a guy who has worked hard for the past six years trying to make it in this league. He finally found a home, just playing his butt off this year, in the playoffs, this should be the time of his life. [Brooks] come in, hit him on the head. He broke the code. Dillon Brooks broke the code.

Shortly after Brooks was ejected, Green inadvertently took an elbow to the face from Xavier Tillman that drew blood and left him writhing in pain on the field. Boos rained down on Green, who was ejected from Game 1 for a flagrant foul on Brandon Clarke as he headed to the locker room for medical treatment. Green responded by knocking Memphis fans down with both hands, later noting that he expected to be fined by the NBA for his actions.

“If you’re going to boo someone who gets a nudge in the eye [and] whose face is dripping with blood, you should be freaking out,” said Green, who was able to return to action in the second quarter despite significant swelling in his right eye. “I’ll take the fine and go make an appearance and make some money. It was really good to put them out. … If they’re going to be that bad, I can be bad too. I guess the cheers were ’cause they know I’m gonna get fined Great I make $25 million a year I should be fine.

Not to be lost in any grudges: Payton was Golden State’s first perimeter defender and designated Ja-stopper. Kerr had moved Payton into the starting lineup in Game 1 with the express purpose of applying constant pressure on Morant, and now the Warriors will have to revise their defensive approach ahead of Saturday’s Game 3 in San Francisco.

Superstars captivate audiences, upset opponents and run for pressure. Morant already ticks all three boxes, even though his story is just beginning. He helped the Grizzlies tie a franchise record with 56 wins, then changed the course of their first-round streak against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a devastating dunk, a dominating fourth quarter and a game-winning layup in the Game 5. For his final round, Morant let the Warriors know he was ready, willing and able to make their lives miserable in what is shaping up to be the most exciting second-round series of this year.

“It’s not just the games,” Jenkins said. “It is the strength that [Morant] play with. The spirit he plays with is contagious. You know it’s built for times like this.

Sign up for our weekly NBA newsletter to get the best basketball coverage in your inbox