Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies has returned from his match ban determined to leave a footprint on his team’s Western Conference semifinal streak with the Golden State Warriors. He was about to make things happen Monday night in Game 4. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, his footprint largely consisted of throwing 3 wrong points from the back of the rim and dribbling the ball off his foot.
Brooks is (typically) one of the best players in one of the NBA’s most exciting youth teams, but there is no substitute for the post-season experience. The Grizzlies are getting some and will pay them back in the future, but the future is not now. Their championship-tested opponent is making sure.
On Monday, the Grizzlies had every opportunity even for the best of seven series in two games apiece, in San Francisco none other than. But they were 3 points behind when Brooks handed the spotlight to Jaren Jackson Jr., a teammate who had plenty of time – about 15 seconds left – to exercise patience. Instead, Jackson threw a triple with three defenders close by. Golden State’s Draymond Green put a hand on the ball and Jackson missed.
“We rushed a couple of plays there,” said Memphis manager Taylor Jenkins after his team’s 101-98 defeat. “We just have to learn from it and improve for the next game.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s Game 5, the Grizzlies are facing yet another new experience: the possibility of elimination. I’m queued up in the series, 3-1, and the status of Yes Moro, who missed Monday’s defeat with pain in his right knee, is uncertain. He looks gloomy to them.
Against a lesser opponent, perhaps the Grizzlies could have more easily overcome their youthful exuberance, combined now with Morant’s absence. The Warriors are not a minor opponent. They proved it in game 4, even after that they missed the first 15 attempts by 3 pointsand even after scoring only 38 points in the first half, and even after being down by 12.
“Gutted,” said Stephen Curry, who recalled his passionate exchange with Green after Green interrupted Jackson’s shot in the last minute. “Something with the effect of, ‘This is what you do.’ Every opportunity we have to appreciate his greatness at that end of the pitch, especially at this stage, is what it’s all about. “
Not long ago, there was an expectation that the series would offer the best of 21st century basketball. Here were two teams capable of filling box scores with offensive fireworks.
Beyond that, the series seemed to have the potential to turn into a delightfully entertaining generational skirmish. The Grizzlies, behind Morant, were the new guys on the block, early contenders on the schedule. Golden State, of course, had reassembled its core after two seasons marked by injuries.
The series, therefore, was supposed to be a delight for an esthete, chock full of dizzying and deep dunks 3 episodes and mutual respect. Instead, in four games, she was more Royal Rumble than Alvin Ailey. Green thing sent off for committing a flagrant foul in Game 1. Golden State’s Gary Payton II fractured his elbow in Game 2 after Brooks hit him in the head as Payton went to layup. And after hobbling off the pitch in Game 3, Morant took to social media to accuse Golden State’s Jordan Poole of making a dirty game all his own.
About an hour before the start of Game 4, a disjointed streak got even stranger when Golden State announced that Steve Kerr would not be available to coach because he had entered the league’s coronavirus health and safety protocols. Instead, Mike Brown, one of his assistants, would call the shots. The strangest part of all? Earlier in the day the Sacramento Kings had called Brown as their new head coach. (He will stay with Golden State for the duration of the postseason.)
Kerr’s absence added to the show’s sense of wear and tear. Payton may be gone for the remainder of the postseason. Morant sat behind the Grizzlies bench wearing a sweatshirt. And now Kerr had to watch the game from home, part of a TV audience that had settled for a thrilling theater night.
Golden State has a well-deserved reputation for playing a fine basketball brand. But this is a team that can also win badly, not just in the postseason.
“We’ve been here before and we know how to finish games like this,” Curry said.
Without Morant, Memphis wanted to mess up: after providing limited minutes in the past few weeks, Steven Adams started in the middle and was solid, finishing with 10 points and 15 rebounds. Everyone else was the problem. Brooks shot 5 for 19 from the field. Kyle Anderson went 2 for 7 from the free throw line. And Jackson missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.
“It’s hard when it happens,” he said. “I wanted more from myself.”
The question is whether Memphis has much more to give. What these young Grizzlies seem to need is a post-season session, a quick infusion of the secrets to winning high-stakes games. They won a lot during the regular season, finishing with the second-best NBA record. But winning when every game is exciting, when critical fouls don’t go their way, when defense makes easy shots difficult and difficult shots impossible, when free throws don’t feel so free? It could take years to learn all this and many players never do. The Grizzlies may have to try to play as if they did, without their best player.
Memphis did not disclose the specific nature of Morant’s injury, but he was not immune from knee problems. In November, during a torrid start to the regular season, he sprained his left knee and then entered the league’s health and safety protocols, missing 12 games. HEY lost many more games towards the end of the regular season with knee pain.
However, Adams said the team was able to make fixes for Game 5, which he said were both “simple” and “reassuring”. And what were they?
“I can’t disclose this information, man,” he said. “Keep it hidden. But it’s not a complicated thing. It’s not something we can’t do. Let’s put it this way “.
Memphis still has time to understand this. But not much, especially against Golden State.