With the announcement of Ja Morant’s bruised bone and the likely scenario of him missing the rest of the postseason After suffering a knee injury in Game 3, the Grizzlies’ future in this series looked doomed. Without its 22-year point guard, Memphis could easily have collapsed and despaired. Instead, they kicked the warriors in the neck. 134-95. Klay Thompson called it “embarrassing”. He was right.
Memphis is now 21-6 if Ja is absent from the court this season. He’s still on the bench and brings his signature energy, but instead of falling apart in the absence of their most prolific centerpiece, everyone else performed. Desmond Bane, Tyus Jones and Jaren Jackson Jr. All put on 21-point games, with four other guys contributing double digits in the scoring column. With a 77-50 lead at halftime, it was pretty clear where this game – and this series – was going. At one point, the Grizzlies were up 55 points, coming that close to a playoff point lead record.
With Morant, the Grizzlies are 41-25 this year – as the team leader in goals, rebounds, assists and steals, he’s obviously a huge influence, but perhaps not as fundamentally necessary to the team’s success as we might have thought. Or maybe it’s just the win-or-go playoff mindset of a team quickly forced to confront the reality of benching their best player. They can (and often do) win without him, so let’s look at why the Grizzlies remain so complete without Morant playing without minimizing his impact on the team.
The Nets went on court 8-19 this season without Kevin Durant. The Bucks are down 6-9 while missing Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bulls were 9-7 without Zach Lavine, who isn’t quite the superstar these other players are but still is. The Suns are 8-6 without Devin Booker, but they have another star in Chris Paul. But the Grizzlies are 21-and-freaking-6 without a player to lead the team’s points average per game by nine points above the second-highest scorer. How, how, how? It shouldn’t be possible, but here we are on our way to Game 6.
Perhaps it’s their untamed youth – coached by a 37-year-old, raised by a 34-year-old and the oldest player on the team under 30, their lack of an experienced leader to lean on seems like , getting bigger is more of an advantage. They don’t panic without their star because he’s not a Durant-style legend or a Giannis-style leader. He brings his A-game, energy and talent to the pitch, of course, but he’s still 22 and while they can count on him for calling numbers, they don’t have to feel the same way he is the glue that holds the team together.
They’re a fearless, physical team whose defense actually improved without Morant out there, allowing fewer points and forcing more turnovers. And of course, there’s the unpredictability factor for enemy defenses without a star shooter to focus on.
There’s always a chance they’ll lose tomorrow night or in Game 7 if that happens, but it won’t be due to a lack of effort, hope or energy. Sometimes your top scorer is the deciding factor – but sometimes a game like last night happens. The warriors may not be ready for what is to come.