Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant was injured during Game 3 of their best-of-seven playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. His status for Monday’s Game 4 is in doubt, according to head coach Taylor Jenkins. This is the third incident in a contentious playoff series, and the Grizzlies are showing their inexperience, falling victim to mind games.
During Game 1, the Warriors’ Draymond Green swiped down on the Grizzlies’ Brandon Clarke as Clarke was going for a layup. Green missed and made contact with Clarke’s face and then tugged on Clarke’s jersey, pulling him down to the floor.
Green was assessed a flagrant 2 foul and ejected from the game.
Immediately following the game Green recorded an episode of his popular eponymous podcast, where he discussed the foul in question.
“I am dumb enough to think that it would not even be a Flagrant 1,” said Green. “That the playoffs are a little tougher and not as soft as the regular season.”
Green even said he hoped the league would review the play and possibly rescind the flagrant 2 and bring it down to a less severe flagrant 1 foul.
Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr, also made it a non-issue.
“I have no reaction. We are powerless in this stuff,” Kerr said. “Whatever the league decides, or whatever the referees decide, that’s what stands. We have to move on to the next game.”
Steve Kerr on Draymond's flagrant 2 not being reduced: "I have no reaction. We are powerless in this stuff. Whatever the league decides, or whatever the referees decide, that's what stands. We have to move onto the next game."
— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) May 2, 2022
Clarke was not injured on the play but could have been hurt pretty badly. The Grizzlies were fortunate.
Following the Game 1 win Kerr dropped a comment about physicality, that wasn’t made by accident.
“It’ll be the most physical game we play all year,” Kerr said. “We cannot come in here and let your guard down knowing what we’re going to face in terms of their physicality.
“You can’t let your guard down. You can’t let people run by you when the shot goes up, ball watch. You’ve got to find a body and box out. If there’s a ball on the floor, you’ve got to go get it.”
So the takeaway was, hard foul in playoff basketball, whatever the league decides is what they decide. But the Grizzlies will be physical in Game 2 and we need to be prepared for that.
During Game 2, the Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks received a flagrant foul 2 and was ejected for attempting to make a chase-down block, he also missed in his attempt, and struck a mid-air Gary Payton II in the head. Payton II fell awkwardly to the ground and fractured his elbow.
Kerr was irate immediately after the play happened, cursing at Brooks to get off the floor. During the in-game coaches interview he said the Grizzlies weren’t physical but “dirty.” Following the game Kerr used the word dirty several times and said Brooks “broke the code.”
Not sure what “code” Kerr was referring to. Maybe the code that you don’t intentionally injure another player. That’s fair. So then Kerr believes Brooks intentionally set out to injure Payton II.
That’s a much different tone than what he said after game one when Green was ejected.
The difference in this instance is the Warriors were unlucky. Payton II was bumped mid-air and physics took over. He used his arm to brace his fall, landed awkwardly and fractured his elbow. That’s just bad luck.
Kerr’s repeated use of the word dirty and language about “breaking the code” caused the league to react and Brooks was suspended for game three. Had Payton II not been injured it’s very likely there would be no suspension.
On to Game 3 where Morant was injured on a play in which he and the Warriors’ Jordan Poole were going after a loose ball and the Poole grabs at Morant’s knee. That motion toward Morant’s knee is what the Grizzlies believe caused the injury.
Following that game Grizzlies player Jaren Jackson Jr. said, “You know the code. Talk about the code all series at this point. We’re going to ride for our own.”
Morant tweeted a video of Poole grabbing his knee with the caption “broke the code.”
Ja Morant reacted to Jordan Poole grabbing his knee.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 8, 2022
Jenkins said he was “curious” to see what the league would do after reviewing the video. He doubled down on Sunday prior to the league stating no further action against Poole would be taken.
“Just trying to be matter-of-fact here,” Jenkins said when asked about what he thought about the play after further review. “This is what Ja says, this is what our medical team has said after reviewing the play. Ja was playing great, feeling great all game, and the grab of the knee is what triggered the potential injury and why we took Ja out of the game. Nothing has changed from there in terms of that was the play that triggered this.”
The playoffs are as much a psychological battle as they are a physical one. Kerr and the Warriors championship veterans have the Grizzlies thinking about everything else but basketball right now.
Kerr played for Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, two masters of the mental side of the game. If your opponent is distracted they are much easier to defeat.
If you’re the Grizzlies of course you think it’s unfair Brooks was suspended and you’re being labeled a “dirty” team. But you cannot control that. What matters is the game on the floor and executing.
With a 2-1 lead and a wounded and mentally distracted opponent, the Warriors smell blood. A 3-1 lead against an inexperienced playoff team is a good place to be.
Jenkins and the Grizzlies need to forget all the talk and focus on the task at hand: Executing on both ends of the floor and using their speed, athleticism and physicality to force the game to be played on their terms.