Ja Morant struggled to see out of his left eye after being punched going for a rebound late in the third quarter. Determined to make up for missing a would-be winning layup at the end of Game 1, the All-Star guard proved he could still find the basket.
Morant scored 47 points to match his postseason high and carry the Memphis Grizzlies into a tie in the Western Conference semifinals with a 106-101 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.
However, the night proved costly for the Warriors beyond the loss itself. Dillon Brooks was ejected after hitting Warriors guard Gary Payton II across the head. Payton went for X-rays that showed a broken left elbow. He will have an MRI on Wednesday.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said playoff basketball is expected to be physical but called Brooks’ foul “dirty.”
“I don’t know if it was intentional, but it was dirty,” Kerr said after the game. “There is a code. This code that players follow where you never put a guy’s season [or] career in jeopardy by taking somebody out in midair and clubbing him across the head, ultimately fracturing Gary’s elbow … He broke the code. Dillon Brooks broke the code.”
Draymond Green, ejected from Game 1 for his own foul, went down a couple of minutes later. He went to the locker room, flashing the middle digit on each hand at the fans. He returned for the second quarter after getting stitches for a cut at his right eye that was nearly swollen shut by halftime.
“You gonna boo someone who was elbowed in the eye and face is running with blood, you should get flipped off,” Green said. “I’ll take the fine. I’ll do an appearance and make up the money. It felt really good to flip them off … If they are going to be that nasty, I will be nasty too. I’m assuming the cheers were because they know I’ll be fined. Great – I make $25m a year. I should be just fine.”
Away from the physical confrontations, Morant was brilliant. The NBA’s Most Improved Player, who also had 47 in Game 2 against Utah last year, became only the third player in league history to have multiple 45-point games in the postseason before turning 23. The other two? LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
“It’s not just the plays,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “It’s just the force that he plays with, the spirit that he plays with. It’s infectious. I’ve said it since day one. Like, you know he’s going to be built for moments like this, and this is super impressive”
Now the youngest team to reach the semifinal round in the last 25 years head to San Francisco for Game 3 on Saturday night knowing the series will return to Memphis for Game 5 with Morant leading the way.
“Ja is a very great player,” Clarke said.
In Tuesday’s other game, Jaylen Brown scored 25 of his 30 points in the first half, and Boston beat Milwaukee 109-86 to even their Eastern Conference semifinals series at one game apiece.
“It’s the playoffs. That’s it,” Brown said. “We can’t let one game kind of dictate how this series goes. We wanted to be aggressive from the gate.”
Brown shook off a dismal shooting night in Game 1, going nine for 10 in the first half, including five for five from the three-point line. Jayson Tatum added 19 points and eight assists. Grant Williams finished with 21 points. Al Horford had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“We wanted to come and play like our season was on the line and we did,” Brown said.