Tempers flared and a scuffle ensued on Thursday night after Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks hit Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell in the groin area as Brooks tumbled to the ground. Mitchell threw the ball at Brooks after he was hit and then the scuffle ensued with coaches leaving their respective benches to try to deescalate the situation. Brooks and Mitchell were both ejected.
Have the Grizzlies gone overboard with their style of play, and are they the NBA’s new villains?
Following the game, Mitchell was still upset and thinks the league needs to do something about Brooks.
“That’s just who he is,” Mitchell told reporters following the game. “We’ve seen it a bunch in this league with him. Him and I have had our personal battles for years. Quite frankly, I’ve been busting his ass for years. … There’s no place for that in the game. This has been brewing for years with me and other guys in the league. You all see it. This isn’t new.
“There should be something,. This isn’t just a Donovan thing. This has happened to other players throughout this league, and it’s bulls— if I’m being honest with you. It’s complete bulls—. It’s one thing, you know, you got Ja, you got Bane, you got Jaren Jackson. Those guys, they talk s— and that’s fine, that’s all a part of basketball. We all grew up playing that way.
“But when you start doing little cheap s—, that ain’t it. That’s where my frustration lies. It’s not about talking back and forth. That’s cool, but when you start doing little stuff like that, what are we really doing?”
The 6-foot-6 Brooks is the embodiment of the Grizzlies edgy ethos. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and is physical. He will talk to or at anyone within earshot. That infuses the Grizzlies with the fire they want to play basketball with.
They are young, brash, cocky and pretty good at basketball. That combination tends to rub players on other teams the wrong way. Particularly if the talking escalates to physical play that is unwarranted.
Last season during the conference semifinals against the Golden State Warriors, Brooks was called for a flagrant foul 2 on Gary Payton II. It was a hard foul that resulted in a fractured elbow for Payton. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Brooks “broke the code.”
The Grizzlies and Warriors have been chirping back and forth since.
The Grizzlies burst onto the scene two years ago when they defeated the Warriors in the play-in tournament to make the playoffs for the first time in the Ja Morant era.
Last season they had the second best record in the league en route to the conference semifinals, where they lost to the Warriors in six tough games.
Along the way they found an identity. They weren’t the young fun underdog team from a small market. They were a team that wanted to beat you and talk smack while doing it.
Morant told us the Grizzlies “don’t duck no smoke,” they “climb up the chimney.”
Well if that’s who they are so be it. It will earn them no points with opposing fan bases and many people in the media.
We do this weird thing in sports where we take it personally if a team that hasn’t won a championship talks brash. Win before you start talking is the common refrain. But ultimately this is entertainment. If you’re not entertained by watching the Grizzlies then maybe professional sports isn’t for you.
“Anything when it comes to negative about the Grizzlies, we normally, you know, get the punishment,” Morant said. “It ain’t the same. They [the NBA] hate us.”
If the villain role is how people see the Grizzlies and if they believe the league “hates” them, it is what it is. When you talk that talk you have to embrace whatever comes back your way. We’ll find out if they’re up to the challenge of being the most hated.