Late in the fourth quarter of the Memphis Grizzlies beat-down of the Chicago Bulls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Ja Morant drove to the basket and was fouled by Tony Bradley. The two men got tangled, and neither wanted to relent. Eventually they were separated, and while Morant was on the bench with his teammates he could be seen saying “I can fight.”
Ja Morant and Tony Bradley getting into it during Grizzlies-Bulls 😳 pic.twitter.com/zFIjUbBU0U
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 17, 2022
& something else 😮💨 https://t.co/2GO5ReTviH
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) January 17, 2022
The Grizzlies won the game, handing the Bulls their third straight loss. As the hottest team runs roughshod over the test of the league, players on other teams are going to feel some kind of way. Especially on the wrong end of a smackdown.
The NBA is full of players with fragile egos. Seeing a player like Morant score at will and stunt and have his teammates celebrate boisterously is kryptonite to a fragile ego.
Bradley, not quick enough laterally to stay in front of Morant, opted to wrap him up instead. Once the whistle blows, why not just release and keep it moving? Morant could have chosen to walk away too, but he didn’t.
That’s the ethos of this Grizzlies team. They are the second-youngest team in the league and they play with a moxie and exuberance of the new kid on the block ready to let people know he’s here.
The Grizzlies are 31-15 and third in the Western Conference. They are sixth in aNET, fifth in aORTG, and 12th in aDRTG. They’re not coming, they’ve arrived.
Two seasons ago in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, they lost in the play-in tournament. That was Morant’s rookie year. Last season they defeated Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the play-in and in the first round of the playoffs took Game 1 off the top seeded Utah Jazz.
This season they are on pace to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and could win any potential first-round series. They’re good enough to put a legit scare into any playoff opponent.
Can they win the Western Conference? That’s likely a step too far. But don’t tell them that.
The entire organization is feeling themselves right now. Even the social media team. Following the victory over the Bulls, the official Grizzlies Twitter account sent a tweet with a picture of Chicago artist Chance the Rapper. Chance was wearing a hat with an L and the tweet stated:
“This is your part nobody else speak.”
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) January 17, 2022
That’s of course a take of Chance’s verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam”: “This is my part, nobody else speak.” Cold.
The Grizzlies are young, fun, and they are the hottest team in the league right now. Like any new upstart, they’re going to ruffle a few feathers on their ascent. They take their cue from their leader.
Morant is a star on the rise in this league and he is unapologetically himself and unafraid of the stage or the moment. You’re not going to rattle him or the Grizzlies by being physical. They will fight.