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NBA

The Memphis Grizzlies face elimination without Ja Morant

Though all is not lost, the Grizzlies face an immensely difficult task as they attempt to save their playoff hopes and to make matters worse, their best player is missing.

Paul Rudder
Update:
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 9: Kevon Looney #5 of the Golden State Warriors dunks the ball against the Memphis Grizzlies during Game 4 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals on May 9, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joe MurphyGetty

While they have shown they can win without their star, being one loss away from exiting the playoffs means there is literally no wiggle room.

Can the Grizzles prevent elimination?

To say things look bleak for the Memphis Grizzlies would be stating the obvious at this point. Missing Ja Morant - their best player - for the second consecutive game, they must now try to stop the Golden State Warriors from putting the nail in the coffin of their playoff hopes when they square up against them on Wednesday night. Where Morant himself is concerned, the point guard has now received an MRI which has in fact confirmed that he sustained bruising to the bone in his right knee during Game 3. It’s unlikely that the 22 year old star will take to the court again in this year’s playoffs.

As for the Warriors, the ‘Dubs’ currently have a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series and have most definitely taken advantage of Morant not being present. Indeed, Steph Curry and Co. were able to overturn a 12 point deficit during Game 4 to take win and in turn take control of the series. Morant is widely acknowledged - correctly so - as being a clutch player which is to say one who takes control of the fourth quarter. “It’s a tough one. It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Tyus Jones, who had 19 points while starting in place of Morant. “It felt like we were leading the whole game. It felt like we were in a good position. It felt like we put ourselves in a good position to win a ballgame and things didn’t go our way down the stretch.”

Will it be Steve Kerr or Mike Brown for the Warriors?

On Wednesday, the Warriors had to do without their head coach due to the fact he entered the league’s health and safety protocols after testing positive for covid-19. At present there has been no official word on whether or not Kerr will be present for Game 5, but it should be said it is widely expected that he won’t. What that means is that it will likely once again fall to associate head coach Mike Brown, who actually has a 12-0 record in the post season in total when he has had to fill in for Kerr. Incidentally, Brown was recently hired to be head coach of the Sacramento Kings.

Though Brown is clearly a credible stand in and the Warriors did of course win, it’s worth noting that the Warriors trailed for the majority of the game. In truth it was only in the fourth quarter when a ‘Morantless’ Grizzlies team seemed to falter as they tried to close out the game - something they seem to struggle with when he’s absent - that Golden State was able to get back into the game. In the end the Warriors outscored Memphis by 15 points during the last 10:12 of the game.

What about Warriors’ Steph Curry

Against the Grizzlies, Steph Curry hasn’t been at his best. Accordingly the former league MVP actually struggled for the majority of the game before exploding to score 18 of his game-high 32 over the final 7:55. Love or hate him, Curry delivers when asked. “We got a little rushed over the first six minutes and it set the tone for some ugly offense,” Curry said. “The open shots didn’t really feel like they were in rhythm. Credit to our defense, that’s what kept us in it.”

It was of course Curry who was the protagonist when the Warriors were finally able to take the lead at 94-93 with 45.7 seconds on the clock. After sinking his two free throws, Curry scored six more points as the game came to an end. “Nothing we figured out, it was just don’t let the first three quarters influence the fact that we still had a chance to win the game,” Curry said. “Shoot the shots you think you can make, play aggressive, take care of the ball. We did all of those things.”

Warriors’ Mike Brown vs Grizzlies’ Taylor Jenkins

Now set for a head coaching role with the Sacramento Kings, perhaps there is no better send off for Mike Brown that guiding the Warriors to the verge brink of the Conference Finals. Having spent years with the Warriors, this is a coach that knows his players and it showed as he spoke of the calm shown by his team. “A lot of it has to do with the playoff experience that these guys have but their talent and IQ in my opinion is second to none,” Brown said.

There is, however, the other side of the divide. True, the Grizzlies are down 3-1 in the series and will now have to win 3 straight games if they are to advance, but at the very least they will begin that journey playing in front of their own fans on Wednesday night. Their coach Taylor Jenkins understands that and more over understands that the only thing that matters, is the here and now. “You recognize the good things you did and just focus on the season isn’t over yet,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “It’s 3-1. I told them to forget what the record is in the series. You’ve just got to focus on just winning a game. Just go focus on winning one game right now.”

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