The Memphis Grizzlies evened their second-round series with the Golden State Warriors at one game apiece with a 106-101 victory in Game 2 on Tuesday. Morant led all scorers with a playoff career-high 47 points, joining LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as the only players in history to record multiple 45-point playoff games before the age of 23, per ESPN Stats.
Stephen Curry led the way for Golden State with 27 points on a night where Memphis’ defense held the Warriors to just 18.4 percent shooting from 3-point range. Jordan Poole added 20 points in the loss. Game 3 is set for Saturday in San Francisco.
Here are three takeaways from Memphis’ series-tying victory.
Ian Eagle has delivered just about every Ja pun you can think of during this series, so we might as well keep it going here. Morant is incredible. As mentioned at the top, his 47 points puts him on a list with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as the only players in history to post multiple 45-point playoff games before the age of 23.
Morant caught a break early on when Gary Payton II was lost for the game after a Flagrant 2 foul courtesy of Dillon Brooks, who was ejected. Payton — who Steve Kerr reported after the game has a fractured elbow, which is awful news — is a menace on the ball, and with him out, Morant had favorable matchups all night. He took full advantage, breaching the paint and finishing ins typical acrobatic and powerful fashion.
Morant, who brought the Grizzlies home with 18 fourth-quarter points, was ultra aggressive, getting up 31 shots, and 12 of those were from beyond the arc. The Warriors sagged way off him at the top, and he walked into 3s all night, making five of them. If he starts hitting that shot on a consistent basis, which, with that kind of space isn’t out of the question, he’s going to be officially impossible to defend. He might already be.
2. Brick Brothers
Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 5 for 23 from 3 and 16 for 44 overall. Most of them were good looks, some completely wide open. Curry had one wide-open look late in the game that missed everything, and even one of his made 3s, a dead straight walk-in shot from the top of the key, was a backboard brick that just happened to go in.
This continues to be a baffling shooting season for Curry, who is now 27 for 70 from deep in the playoffs (38 percent). That’s not a bad number, unless you’re Curry, who hasn’t been anything close this season to the shooter he’s been throughout his career. He’s erratic game to game and very rarely hits the crazy shots anymore. You can tell how locked in a shooter is by his misses — are they short or long, a better sign, or missing left and right? — and Curry, who’s 8 for 23 from deep through the first games of this series, has missed worse this season than at any point I can remember.
Thompson, meanwhile, was 2 for 12 from deep on Tuesday and is 5 for 22 for the series. His case is less suspicious; he’s still less than four months into his return from two years off with a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles. Still, he needs to rein in some of his no-conscience ways, particularly off the dribble, which is not his strength. He tried too hard to shoot his way into a rhythm on Tuesday and wound up shooting the Warriors into a deeper hole.
There’s going to be a lot of talk about the Warriors’ 18 turnovers in Game 2 and their inability, or unwillingness, to value the ball in general, but this team has always been reckless/careless/flat-out stupid with the ball. The difference now is they can’t consistently shoot their way out of trouble as Curry and Thompson are simply not the marksmen they used to be, or at least they haven’t been this season.
3. Payton news a huge bummer
To find out Payton has a fractured elbow is a real gut-shot. The guy bounced around forever trying to find a steady job in the NBA, and not only did he find one with the Warriors, he started the first two games of this series and was an integral component of a title contender. It changes the complexion of this series big time. Payton was the No. 1 Morant defender. If the Warriors were to make it through to the conference finals and face the Suns, you would’ve seen a lot of Payton on Chris Paul and Devin Booker. This was his moment.
And Dillon Brooks took it away from him. Steve Kerr called it a dirty play, and I agree. Nobody is saying Brooks was trying to hurt Payton, but he made a reckless play on a guy who was in midair with full knowledge that it was putting Payton in a highly vulnerable position. That’s dirty.
All we can hope for Payton is that he recovers from this and it doesn’t affect his free agency this summer. This is not a guy who has made tens of millions of dollars. Again, this is the first steady NBA job he’s had. This summer he was going to be set to sign the first financially-securing contract of his life. Hopefully he will still get he payday he has earned, but you just don’t know the severity right now.
As for the Warriors, losing Payton is a big hit. His defense, cutting and finishing and overall energy is a huge part of what the Warriors do. Hopefully Andre Iguodala can get back to take on some of those top perimeter assignments, but there’s no replacing Payton and what he brought on both ends. There’s just no way around that.