Golden State held a 99-98 lead with 2:06 left to go but on Tuesday night in Memphis, Ja Morant was the best player on the floor. After Dillon Brooks sent Gary Payton II to the locker room early in the game, Steve Kerr and the Warriors just couldn’t map out an answer for the NBA’s 2022 Most Improved Player.
Morant went on to finish the game with 47 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists including Memphis’ final 15 points of the game, closing out the Warriors with an 8-2 run to end the game and knot the series up at one game apiece.
Hats off to a young Grizzlies team that’s now lost the first game in each of the first two rounds. They clearly know how to respond as they’ve found ways to tie things back up after game two once again. Golden State has every right to be confident with the next two games being in San Francisco, but Memphis has something that’s as game-changing as any one individual player or coach – their heart. And that’s why we’ve still got a long series ahead of us.
Implications of Brooks’ Suspension
On Thursday the NBA announced the suspension of Memphis guard Dillon Brooks after he was ejected less than three minutes into game two for striking Warriors guard Gary Payton II in the head while he was attempting a layup, causing an awkward landing. The Warriors announced on Wednesday that Payton suffered a fractured elbow on the play. Payton, a menace on the defensive end, is expected to miss about a month’s worth of time.
All things considered, the loss of Payton is a much bigger blow to Golden State than the loss of Brooks is for Memphis. For starters, Brooks will obviously return to the lineup after the suspension, but if this means backup guard De’Anthony Melton sees his minutes increased as a result, that’s also a win for the Grizzlies.
Much like Brooks, Melton is inconsistent on the offensive end but his activity defensively is matched by only a few across the league. Melton found himself out of the rotation in round one but after a big game one off the bench versus Golden State, Melton found himself playing a large role in game two and will likely be the guy to step into the starting lineup in the place of Brooks on Saturday.
Melton’s inconsistencies were on display in game two, but so was his defensive activity. After scoring 14 points and knocking down three triples in game one, Melton scored just 3 points in game two, but unlike Brooks, he won’t shoot you out of a game, and he came up with 2 steals and 3 blocks. He has 5 steals and 4 blocks total in the first two games of this series and he should continue to play a big role for Memphis as this series goes along.
As for Golden State, losing Payton is a huge blow. With Payton joining Andre Iguodala on the injury report, the team arguably has two of its three best defenders sidelined. Payton was tasked with being the primary defender on Morant and without him on the floor Tuesday night, the Warriors were desperately searching for an answer that they would unfortunately never find.
Steve Kerr and the Warriors have been through these types of battles before and they’ll come ready with some sort of counter to throw at Morant going forward but will it be enough?
Live by the Three, Die by the Three
In Game two’s five-point loss, the Warriors shot 7-38 from long distance which included 6-29 from Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole. The Warriors shot as bad as they’ll likely ever shoot and still had the game in their grasp going into the final two minutes.
Over the last three games, the Warriors have shot just 31.8% from deep. This must mean they’re either due for an explosion in game three, or the case of the doozies will continue. But, heading back to the Bay and having a rowdy crowd of Warriors fans may just be the trick they need to hit shots at the rate we’ve all become accustom to them hitting over the years.
Look for Golden State to come out firing on all cylinders right from the get-go on Saturday. Golden State started slowly in each of the first two games in Memphis and they’ll likely make it a point to start strong in front of the home fans in game three.
The Warriors were dreadful from deep on Tuesday night and the Grizzlies held them to a respectable 36.8% in the series opener; after Tuesday’s performance (18.4%) I really wouldn’t be shocked to see Golden State bury 15-20 triples on Saturday night.
There was even a stretch Tuesday night that began in the second quarter and spanned into the third quarter, where the Warriors missed 15 consecutive three-point attempts.
Klay Thompson specifically looked out of sorts in game two. He was hunting shots instead of letting the game come to him and it felt like he spent a lot of that game frustrated.
Thompson hit the go-ahead three that would eventually go on to be the game-winner in the series opener, but he also missed two crucial free throws down the stretch of that game and then followed it up with a 5-19 shooting performance in game two. Look for Thompson specifically to have a bounce back game on Saturday at home in the Bay but the team as a whole should bounce back along with him.
Game 3 and 4 Predictions
With a few days for both teams to prep, look for Saturday’s contest in San Francisco to be another back and forth, entertaining affair.
Both of these teams feed off a chaotic atmosphere of play and so far Memphis has outplayed Golden State when the “run and gun” tendencies of these teams takes over. The Warriors are the team that’s used to taking over in those situations but they’re playing with fire against Morant and the rest of the athletes the Grizzlies have.
Golden State has turned it over 18 times in each of the first two games of the series and that’s a number they should focus on bringing down as this series heads into San Francisco. It’d be smart for the Warriors to try and slow up the pace and force Memphis to execute more in the half court over the course of 48 minutes.
With all that being said, I think we’ll be heading back to Memphis for game five all tied up at two.Main image credit: