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Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Morant Ties Playoff Career High With 47 Points as Grizzlies Defeat Warriors, 106-101

The Memphis Grizzlies could not afford to lose game two at home to the Golden State Warriors after missing an opportunity to win game one at the buzzer--and Ja Morant made sure that the Grizzlies prevailed, tying his playoff career high with 47 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter when neither team led by more than four points until the final seconds. Memphis' 106-101 victory tied the series at 1-1, and showed that the Grizzlies are not suffering any lingering aftereffects from squandering a 13 point lead in the first game. Morant was masterful from start to finish, shooting 15-31 from the field (including 5-12 from three point range) and 12-13 from the free throw line while tying for the team lead in rebounds (eight) and leading the team in assists (eight). He had three steals and just two turnovers. 

Morant joins a select group of players who notched at least two 45 point playoff games before the age of 25, including Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Morant is also the youngest player to post 47-8-8 in a playoff game, breaking a mark held by James. James and Russell Westbrook are the only players to have two such playoff games. 

Memphis' next leading scorer was Ziaire Williams (14 points). Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 12 points before fouling out, but he shot just 3-14 from the field. Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 27 points, but he shot 11-25 from the field, and he had three of his five turnovers in the fourth quarter. Jordan Poole added 20 points on 8-16 field goal shooting. Andrew Wiggins scored 16 points and had nine rebounds, but he shot 6-16 from the field. Klay Thompson scored 12 points on 5-19 field goal shooting, including 2-12 from three point range.

The game got off to a very rough start. With 9:08 remaining in first quarter, Dillon Brooks received a flagrant foul penalty 2 (and automatic ejection) for the windup, impact and follow through as he hit Gary Payton II in the head and knocked Payton out of the air as Payton drove to the hoop for a fast break layup. Payton II suffered a broken elbow after taking a very hard landing on the play. Golden State Coach Steve Kerr called the play "dirty" and said that Brooks had broken the players' code to not hit a vulnerable player in midair in a way that could injure that player. I would say that a dirty play consists of an unsportsmanlike act intended to seriously injure another player; for example, the repeated times that Warrior Draymond Green has struck opposing players below the belt are dirty plays. In contrast, Brooks' play was reckless: he is not a shot blocker and he barely even jumped before hitting Payton, so Brooks would have been well-advised to simply wrap Payton up to prevent Payton from attempting a shot. Swinging wildly to block the shot was (1) not likely to result in a blocked shot and (2) running the risk of injuring Payton. Coaches cannot insist that the "no layup" rule applies in the playoffs and then say that it is a dirty play to try to prevent an opposing player from making a layup--but there is no doubt that Brooks made a reckless play that warranted receiving a flagrant foul penalty 2, and the play was reckless enough (and caused a serious enough injury) that the league has to at least consider suspending Brooks. The point of the flagrant foul rule and of suspending players is to encourage players to not only avoid dirty plays but also to avoid reckless plays. 

The Grizzlies led 8-0 when Brooks was ejected, but the Warriors settled down, and pulled to within 56-51 at halftime. Morant already had 23 points on 7-12 field goal shooting at intermission. The Warriors tied the score at 77 heading into the fourth quarter, and after the Warriors took the lead early in the final stanza you could picture the "experts" writing game stories about how the veteran Warriors outplayed the young Grizzlies--but the team that is supposed to have "championship DNA" and more experience in "this environment" lost the game after shooting 2-7 from the field in the final 3:11 as Memphis outscored Golden State 13-4 down the stretch. Morant scored Memphis' final 15 points of the game. How rare is that? The last player who scored his team's final 15 points or more in a playoff victory was LeBron James, who scored Cleveland's final 25 points in an instant classic game five Eastern Conference Finals win versus Detroit. 

The Warriors are 13-13 this season in games decided by five points or less. The "stat gurus" will insist that the Warriors do not miss Kevin Durant because Stephen Curry is a better player than Durant, but the rest of us know better.

There are a lot of different ways of looking at this series, but the outcome will probably not be decided until the final moments of game seven. Golden State has the advantage on paper heading home for two games after getting the split on the road, but the Grizzlies are more than capable of winning at least one of the next two road games. Any Golden State happiness about being in the driver's seat for the moment should be tempered by the reality that the Grizzlies are one Morant layup away from being up 2-0.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:10 AM



At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 4:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think Brooks is a dirty player but actions need to have consequences. Reckless play that effectively removes Golden State's best perimeter defender. And occurring in the first three minutes of the game no less and not jumping or making a real attempt on the ball.

I have been enjoying the more physical NBA this season but these type of plays need to go.

At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 6:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Jordan was under 25 when he dropped 49 and 63 on the Celtics back in the first round of the 1986 playoffs. So Morant is the fourth player under 25 to have at least two 45-point games.

At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 8:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree on both counts: physical play is good, but "actions need to have consequences" regardless of whether an action is dirty or reckless.

At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 8:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Jordan accomplished this feat prior to the so-called "modern era," as did Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry. I have edited that sentence accordingly.

At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 2:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shame that Brooks took out Payton for the series. Probably no coincidence that Ja had the best game of his career so far against a team missing the only guy they had with any prayer of slowing him down. Wiggins is a good defender against forwards but he lacks the speed to contain a guard like Ja and Klay has lost his lateral quickness, presumably due to his injuries. Curry might be their best option in a vacuum but can't imagine they want to ask him to expend that much extra energy on defense for what in the greater scheme of things might amount to two or three extra misses per game. If it tires him out it would likely cost them more than that on the other end as his shot does flatten out when he gets gassed, however rarely.

Ja will probably get more games like that as the series goes on unless they trap. Still probably won't be enough as the Warriors' deep shooting will likely regress to the mean at some point. Even something in the neighborhood of 25% would have turned that game into a comfortable GSW win never mind the 35% Memphis generally allows against average teams. And the Warriors are not average in that department.

Warriors in 6 seems the most likely outcome barring further injury. They will perhaps have one more poor shooting game but it feels unlikely for them to have more than that. Perhaps if the poor shooting felt like it was a function of Memphis' defense but by the eyes it seems more like just the inherent variance of the three point shot and if the Warriors have shown one thing over the last decade it's that they're going to benefit from that variance more often than die by it.

At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 3:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that it is a shame that Brooks took out Payton.

Morant has had big games all season long against a variety of defenders and teams, so I would not necessarily directly connect Payton's absence to Morant's performance but there is no doubt that Payton's absence hurts the Warriors.

Your prediction seems to be very optimistically tilted toward the Warriors. The Grizzlies are one layup away from a 2-0 lead, they have outplayed the Warriors for substantial portions of both games, and--as you note--Payton's absence moving forward will have an impact. I don't see how all of that adds up to the Warriors winning three of the next four games to fulfill your Warriors in six prediction. I stand by my pick of Grizzlies in seven. How many elite teams at full strength--or even close to full strength--have the Warriors sans Durant beaten in a seven game series with the Curry/Thompson/Green nucleus? The Grizzlies were the second best team in the West this season, they are strong at both ends of the court, and they are at full strength other than Adams, who may not have been a major part of the rotation in this series anyway. The popular notion that the Warriors are clearly the superior team is going to be refuted by the end of this series; these teams are very evenly matched, but I expect Morant to make the difference in the end.

At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 3:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not so much optimism (I root for the Mavericks and we're already doomed) as looking for the outlier. Usually the Warriors shoot better from 3 and usually the Grizzlies allow better shooting from three. Most everything else in the series feels sustainable to me including Ja's dominance. But it would be strange for the Warriors to shoot just 28% from three for an entire series and especially strange for them to do so with three of the next five games at home.

The Grizzlies so far are playing pretty close to their ceiling offensively except for Bane who is hurt and Brooks who likewise struggled against Minnesota and may also be hurt. He may also be suspended for a game or two. Even with Ja averaging a highly efficient forty they have so far outscored the Warriors by a total of four points in two combined home games. I do not know what the math is on how many extra points home court advantage is usually worth per game but I would be surprised if it were less than two given the way officiating tends to shift by arena.

The Warriors' key players meanwhile are playing well below their normal level offensively to say nothing of their ceiling. Some of that is assuredly due to Memphis' defense but Curry and Thompson missing open threes is probably not. To win a game against this Memphis team Golden State only needs one of the two to really get it going (or Jordan Poole, as they got in Game 1 but I have more doubts about his reliability). I suspect that in more games than not at least one of Curry or Thompson will have it going because that has been true much more often than not in their previous playoff runs and Memphis is not a noteworthy team when it comes to defending and contesting the three.

To answer your question about who Golden State beat at full strength without Durant, I don't have their runs memorized but they at least beat the strongest of Durant's OKC teams, the strongest of Lillard's Portland teams, the best version of the Gasol/Randolph Grizzlies, and won the closeout game against the best version of the Paul/Harden Rockets without Durant as well. I think the OKC and Houston teams described were stronger or at least tougher matchups for the Warriors than this Memphis team is.

The OKC series may prove to be prophetic as it was also a series where the Warriors lost some otherwise winnable games when their threes were not falling but ultimately the variance evened out and they won the series.

A quick search shows they shot 37%, 46%, 46%, and 47% from three in their wins in that series, but only 30%, 31%, and 37% in their losses. I would hazard a guess that the magic number in this series for them will be something closer to 33% or 34% instead of the 37% it was in that series. Memphis is very good but does not have the rebounding advantage or offensive firepower that OKC team had. It would be something of an aberration to see Golden State shoot below that 33-34% number three out of the next five games especially with three of them at home.

At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 4:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make some good general points, but I disagree with a few of your specific points.

I don't think that we have seen Memphis' best offensively. Perhaps we will not see Memphis' best due to injuries and/or a Brooks suspension, but Memphis is capable of playing better offensively.

I don't think that Curry and Thompson have the same ceiling now that they did during the Warriors' title runs. Also, Curry tends to wear down as the playoffs progress, and Thompson is not as consistent or explosive post-injury as he was pre-injury. Poole is an interesting wild card, though.

This Memphis team is way better than any of Lillard's Portland teams, none of which were elite. The Gasol/Randolph Grizzlies were limited compared to this Grizzlies team. The Paul/Harden Rockets may have been elite on paper, but they never impressed me. OKC is the one elite team that the Curry/Thompson/Green Warriors beat at full strength, and it took a comeback from a 3-1 deficit--including some incredible shooting by Thompson--to accomplish that. Not long after that OKC win, the Warriors lost in the NBA Finals, and Green was on his phone begging Durant to rescue the Warriors.

The Warriors' mystique is a bit overblown. The comparisons of the pre-Durant Warriors to some of the greatest teams of all-time are ludicrous. The Warriors may win this series but I don't think so, and I think that either way by the end of seven games some of that mystique will be tarnished. The outcome will be determined not just by three point shooting but also by the Grizzlies' ability to score a lot of points. If the Grizzlies play at a fast pace then they will put a lot of pressure on the Warriors not only to defend but also to score against a set defense (assuming that the Grizzlies score efficiently in transition).

At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 6:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is, as they say, why they play the games. We will find out soon enough if either team has a higher offensive gear.

I think Curry's ceiling is probably about what it's always been and that his midseason slump was more a product of not having Draymond around to set him up the way he prefers than a sign of actual slippage. Even without Draymond his numbers perked back up the last few months of the season anyhow but I think if he was breaking down physically they would have done the opposite as the season wore on. In a best case scenario the muscle he's put on will help him resist the playoff grind better than he did in 2016 or 2019 but even if it doesn't I don't see much evidence yet that he's meaningfully diminished.

Klay on the other hand I have no idea about. He's clearly not the same on defense yet and who knows if he ever will be. He did some flamethrowing as a shooter late in the season and in the first round but the sample is small and this will be a good test of what he is or isn't in 2022.

I don't think they need too much from Poole or Wiggins to beat the Grizzlies if Curry and Thompson get back to shooting at the level they normally do. Obviously it would help but I think they can win without it if Curry shoots around 38-40% from three and Klay shoots around 35-37%. I do think they will really need the secondary guys to step up against Phoenix, Milwaukee, or Boston though. That will also be an interesting test if it comes to it.

At Wednesday, May 04, 2022 8:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't expect Curry to play better as the series progresses but, as you said, that is why they play the games.

The Warriors' three point shooting is obviously important--if they don't shoot well then they almost certainly will lose--but I would not automatically assume that if they shoot better than X percentage then they are going to win. There are other factors that will impact the outcome of this series as well.


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