SAN FRANCISCO – Already likely to be without catalyst Ja Morant for Game 4 on Monday, the Grizzlies know they can’t also afford to miss defensive assignments if they have any chance to turn this series around against Golden State.
“We’ll find a better game plan, go out and execute and play better,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said as his team seeks to regroup from one of the worst playoff losses in franchise history. “Do what we’ve done all season long. Come back and try to find a way to get better.”
The Grizzlies have proved to be a resilient team all season. But they’ll face their stiffest challenge yet when they return to the Chase Center on Monday against the Warriors, trailing 2-1 in the series and likely missing their All-Star point guard.
Morant is listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report entering Game 4 with knee soreness, potentially leaving the Grizzlies without one of the leading scorers in the NBA playoffs. The injury stems from a scramble in Saturday’s game when Golden State guard Jordan Poole reached and grabbed Morant’s right knee as two Warriors defenders were swarming for the ball.
Do what we’ve done all season long. Come back and try to find a way to get better.
Morant left the game late in the fourth quarter and did not return as the Warriors cruised to a 142-112 win that featured the second-most points scored in their franchise’s playoff history. If Morant is unable to play Monday, the Grizzlies will be missing the marquee production of a player who is averaging 27.1 points, 9.8 assists, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals this postseason.
The Grizzlies maintained success during the regular season by posting a 20-5 record during games Morant has missed. But they now face a three-time champion Golden State team coming off its most dominant performance of the playoffs and looking to take a 3-1 series lead.
An equally daunting challenge requires figuring out a way to slow down the Warriors, who tied a franchise record with 78 points in the second half of Game 3 after shooting 63.1 percent from the field overall. After struggling with their vaunted three-point shooting through the first two games of the series, the Warriors found their rhythm in Game 3 by hitting 17-of-32 from deep.
Jenkins said Monday’s priority is to adjust defensively after watching Game 3 film. Among the more disturbing trends in this series has been the Warriors ability to essentially beat the Grizzlies at their own game. After leading the NBA this season in rebounds, second-chance scoring and points in the paint, Memphis has been outworked in all three areas in this series.
Give (Golden State) credit; they have a good system and a good offense. But we’ve got to do a better job of keeping people in front of us and limit rotations. You’ve got to continue to scramble against this team. You need a lot of extra efforts, and we weren’t good enough (in Game 3).
The starkest difference in output came in Game 3, when the Warriors outscored the Grizzlies 62-44 in the paint. Overall, through three games, Golden State has outrebounded Memphis by 15 boards and holds a 48-point edge in points in the paint.
The remedy starts with improved on-ball defense and preventing guards such as Poole and Steph Curry from getting into the lane and forcing the Grizzlies into defensive breakdowns.
“First and foremost, we’re going to have to keep guys in front of us, meaning we’ve got to do a better job guarding our man, whoever it is,” Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane said. “Give (Golden State) credit; they have a good system and a good offense. But we’ve got to do a better job of keeping people in front of us and limit rotations. You’ve got to continue to scramble against this team. You need a lot of extra efforts, and we weren’t good enough (in Game 3).”
Grizzlies guard De’Anthony Melton insisted the best thing his team could do is to put the previous effort “in the rearview mirror and keep on pushing” ahead defensively.
“They hit some shots that we wanted them to hit, and they hit some shots that they weren’t supposed to hit,” Melton said. “We have to continue to make all their shots tough and figure out where we were wrong. A 30-point loss like this? It’s not us, and we know it’s not us. So we’ve got to get better.”
Reaching their best will be a major obstacle without Morant. But the Grizzlies get another top player back Monday with swingman Dillon Brooks returning from the one-game suspension he served Saturday for a flagrant foul he committed in Game 2.
Brooks, one of five Memphis players averaging double figures in scoring this postseason, is considered the team’s best two-way perimeter player. His offensive punch and his defensive prowess will be desperately needed to help fill the void caused by Morant’s potential absence.
We have to continue to make all their shots tough and figure out where we were wrong. A 30-point loss like this? It’s not us, and we know it’s not us. So we’ve got to get better.
As the second-youngest team in the league, the Grizzlies have responded to adversity all season on the way to finishing with the NBA’s second-best record and No. 2 overall playoff seed.
“We don’t have a problem with that – you don’t base your confidence on (one) game,” forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said of overcoming tough times. “We’ve played a lot of games, so trust me, confidence ain’t a problem. We’re just moving on to the next one, and correct (things) like we know how to. You always look forward. There’s no looking backwards.”
Perhaps the hardest test of the season awaits Monday.
The Grizzlies may be depleted, but they aren’t defeated.
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