Sports

Ja Morant’s Game 2 performance challenges the Golden State Warriors’ championship pedigree


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On Monday, coming off the Golden State Warriors‘ 117-116 victory in Game 1, Stephen Curry reminisced about his absentminded youth.

Like each scholar on Davidson’s campus, Curry was issued a CatCard that admitted him to each facility, from the gymnasium to the cafeteria. Whereas his counterpart within the Western Convention semifinals, Ja Morant, has spent his early 20s with the Memphis Grizzlies main one of many quickest NBA rebuilds lately, Curry mentioned he was nonetheless shedding his CatCard — and attempting to recollect the placement of his dorm. And whereas Curry was determining how one can play the professional recreation, behind Acie Legislation IV, Morant is taking part in on the league’s high-stakes desk, controlling video games along with his tenacity.

If Curry was changing ID playing cards, Morant has been creating artwork. And Memphis’ 106-101 Game 2 win is Morant’s showpiece. He ran up 47 factors on a real capturing proportion of 64.0. He dragged a Grizzlies group with little offensive rhythm and execution by the scruff of their necks, scoring the sport’s last 15 factors.

“Definitely up there,” Morant mentioned when requested the place Tuesday night time’s efficiency ranks in his physique of labor. “I feel like this was kind of a must-win game for us, and for me, I was frustrated with myself for missing that layup in Game 1.”

For the second time previously two weeks when requested about his mindset and technique throughout his fourth-quarter takeovers, Morant was transient in response. He supplied no breakdown of how the protection was scheming and no description of his emotional state. It is a easy mantra: “Go get a bucket.”

Morant mentioned these buckets in Game 2 had been made with restricted sight after taking a shot to his left eye within the third quarter. Imaginative and prescient is perhaps a compass, however Morant can discover his option to the basket carrying a blindfold.

By means of two video games, Morant has loudly declared himself the perfect participant within the sequence. Curry and Klay Thompson have struggled from distance. Draymond Inexperienced missed most of Game 1, and of his 13 potential assists in Game 2, teammates made good on solely three, in keeping with Second Spectrum. The 2 groups is perhaps evenly matched — Vegas be damned — but when famous person performances decide outcomes, the Grizzlies seem well-positioned.

The sequence presents an fascinating — and considerably layered — distinction. The Warriors’ pedigree lends them a powerful id, one cultivated over seven years: The pass-happy fashion, the exuberant pleasure coupled with hyper-intelligence, the protection that goes full halves with out making errors. Game 2, the Warriors’ worst 3-point capturing recreation by proportion (18.4) throughout their present dynastic period, was the exception, not the rule.

These traits stay, however this Warriors squad additionally got here into the postseason with some unknowables. The quartet of Steph Curry, Draymond Inexperienced, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins spent a grand whole of 9 seconds collectively on the ground throughout the common season. The Warriors definitely know what they’re — however particularly who they’re this season continues to be a thriller, even to them. Unusual as it’s to say, the 2022 Warriors are a piece in progress.

The Grizzlies supply the opposing dynamic. Their younger core has grown up collectively this season, even with Dillon Brooks lacking 50 video games. They’ve established a recognizable two-way fashion. Morant’s penetration propels their drive-and-kick recreation. And after getting swamped the primary month of the season, Memphis adjusted their defensive shifts to the inside, minded the gaps, and advanced into among the best paint-protection groups within the league at defending pictures 14 ft in. It is a formulation that received 56 regular-season video games, which is a validation, as a result of that type of success does not occur accidentally.

But, the Grizzlies are on the very outset of a protracted life cycle, and no squad can sufficiently know at such a younger age what their DNA will reveal about it in maturity. The matchup with the Warriors, whereas a beast within the short-term, is a blessing throughout their first substantial postseason foray. It is an opportunity to study championship basketball whereas countering it. Judging by Game 2, Morant and the Grizzlies are a fast research.

Following the buzzer of Golden State’s razor-thin win in Game 1 — the margin being the missed layup that has been caught in Morant’s craw for 48 hours — Curry discovered Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. earlier than they returned to their respective locker rooms. The 2-time MVP advised the 22-year-old phenom and his huge man that the convention semifinals sequence was going to be a battle. “We’re going to have some fun,” Curry advised him.

“I was able to return that message tonight, saying the same thing,” Morant mentioned. “I always say this is my favorite matchup, playing against a guy like him, a great talent. ‘It’s going to be a battle.'”

A battle, but in addition a mutual admiration society between Curry and Morant. Previous-timers may hate it, the fraternity amongst this era of prime opponents, however it’s a signature of the age. Curry is self-possessed sufficient to acknowledge a successor when he sees one. And Morant is aware of what a mentor appears like — even on an evening when he could not see clearly.



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