Now, Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies are calling out the Golden State Warriors for causing unnecessary injury.
Morant re-injured his troublesome right knee late in the game when Jordan Poole grabbed it as they fought for a loose ball late in the Warriors’ 142-112 victory that embarrassed the Grizzlies on Sunday and gave Golden State a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Morant left Chase Center without speaking to reporters but posted and later deleted a video of the play on his Twitter feed with the words “broke the code,” a reference Warriors coach Steve Kerr had used five days earlier when Dillon Brooks’ hard foul in game two sidelined Gary Payton II.
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Poole and Andrew Wiggins swarmed Morant as he dribbled at the top of the three-point arc when Morant struggled to keep possession — and Poole described it as “a basketball play.”
“When we doubled him, I hit the ball, I was going for the ball. Obviously, you don’t want to see anybody get hurt, I’m not even that type of player,” Poole said.
“I respect everybody. Obviously, hopefully he gets better and we can see him out there next game.”
Brooks was suspended for his flagrant two foul in the first quarter on Wednesday when he pounded the head of a driving Payton, who landed awkwardly and fractured his left elbow. He will be sidelined indefinitely, also with ligament and muscle damage.
Kerr said the play was “dirty” and broke an NBA “code” injuring someone and threatening his career, while Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins and his Grizzlies players defended their hard-nosed style as not dirty at all.
Draymond Green and Golden State kept cool from the opening tip — methodically running away with it. Instead, Memphis forward Kyle Anderson got ejected with 6m 19s left for arguing an offensive foul.
Stephen Curry scored 30 points, Klay Thompson had 21 and nine rebounds and Golden State shut down Morant’s supporting cast.
A three by Morant just before the halftime buzzer got the Grizzlies to 64-57 at the break and gave him 17 of his 34 points after a 47-point performance in game two.
But Morant couldn’t do it alone for Memphis, and he was done after rubbing his tender right knee and limping off before heading to the locker room.
“He’s getting evaluated now. Nothing further. We just watched the replay,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said.
“He was going after a dribble and Jordan Poole actually grabbed his knee and yanked it, which kind of triggered whatever happened, so I’m actually going to be very curious to see what happens after that.”
Kerr said he “didn’t even notice the play.”
Brooks will be back for game four on Tuesday at Chase Centre, where the raucous sellout crowd included two women holding signs of Payton’s face insisting the Warriors “Win it for Gary.” It’s unclear if Morant will be fine to play.
“I’ve been through a tough knee injury, and I don’t think there’s any malicious intent from Jordan,” Thompson said.
“I don’t even think he’s strong enough to affect somebody’s knee. But we’re not out there trying to hurt people or trying to club people in the back of the head on a fast break. We play the game the right way and I’m going to have his back.”
Golden State dominated with a balanced attack and energy on both ends after Green called for the offense to do more to better the defense. He dished out eight assists, five points and five rebounds.
“The shot selection was much improved,” Kerr said.
Poole scored 27 points off the bench and Andrew Wiggins added 17 points for Golden State, which used a 10-0 run out of halftime to take command for good.
“We’ve got another game on Monday (Tuesday AEST),” Poole said when asked what he expects next given the latest back-and-forth between the rivals.
Rookie Jonathan Kuminga provided a spark starting in Payton’s place, while Ziare Williams was in for Brooks.
Curry missed his initial two shots then scored his first points of the game by making a big three-pointer with 0.9s left in the first as the Warriors trailed 28-26.
Morant hit a 31-foot three-pointer midway through the first and Williams dunked shortly after for a 21-8 lead and Memphis made six of nine shots to start the game.
But the Grizzlies went cold and made only three of the next 12 and watched the Warriors close the quarter with an 18-7 burst.
“We were just too frenetic to start off the game,” Kerr said.
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