Budding Grizzlies-Warriors rivalry is highlighted by maturation of Ja Morant


Steph don’t impress Ja much.

Steph don’t impress Ja much.
Image: Getty Images

The first two games of the Grizzlies-Warriors semifinals series have provided something for every NBA fan, no matter which side you’re on. If you can’t get excited about this series, then you aren’t a hardcore hoops fan.

This series has something for every basketball fan. You’ve got star power with Ja Morant and Steph Curry. We’ve already seen plenty of physicality, trash talk, fast-paced scoring, and outstanding clutch performances. It’s shaping up to be a long, intense series that both teams will feel the effects of moving forward.

Speaking of star power, Morant went off Tuesday night, carrying the young Grizzlies on his back with a 47-point, 8 rebs, 8 ast, and 3 steal performance. Morant scored 15 straight points over the last four minutes of the fourth quarter to secure the victory for Memphis. I’m not ready to give Morant the superstar stamp just yet. Though he’s right on the cusp of becoming just that.

But Morant is the key in this series. If he can show up consistently in every game, the Grizzlies have a great shot at beating the Warriors and moving onto the Western Conference Finals. I’m not saying Morant needs to score 40+ each game, but he can’t have some of the same games on the road as he did in the Minnesota series. In the three road games against the Timberwolves, Morant scored a combined 44 points. That won’t cut it against Golden State.

Because of Morant’s swift elevation in the league, this matchup is beginning to look more like a long-term rivalry with every game these teams play. Going back to last season’s play-in tournament, Morant and company sent Steph and the Warriors packing, eliminating them from postseason contention. During the regular season, Memphis beat Golden State in three out of their four games. As good as the team is around Morant, he’s the catalyst, and they’ll only go as far as he takes them in the playoffs.

This series also has something for the fan that loves a more physical product. For the old-school fan that loves to reminisce over the ‘90s style of NBA ball, we haven’t forgotten about you. Memphis and Golden State have played two games, and there have already been two ejections. Game two got chippy less than three minutes in when Dillon Brooks took a swipe at the head of Gary Payton II on a layup attempt which caused Payton to come down on his left arm, fracturing his elbow. Not a great play, but the referees got it right, ejecting Brooks. Being physical is one thing, but that went a little far.

Just seconds later, Draymond Green took an elbow to the face that caused him to miss the rest of the first quarter. Then, he flipped the crowd off for booing him in typical Draymond fashion as he walked to the locker room to have his eye stitched up. I’m pretty sure he’ll be hearing from the commissioner’s office about that in the form of a fine. But hey, Green makes $25 million a year, so he’ll be fine. His words, not mine.

While I don’t see the Grizzlies having enough firepower to win this series, I think they’ll be able to push it to at least six games. I think these teams will likely end up in each other’s way for the next few years in the western conference. Similar to the OKC Thunder and San Antonio Spurs a little over a decade ago. Memphis will eventually vanquish Golden State, but it won’t be this year.

Where the rest of this series is concerned, I feel like the refs will be on high alert due to all the rough play during the first two games. Any foul that has even a hint of excessiveness will likely be called flagrant from here on. One thing to watch out for is Green, as he already has two flagrant points in these playoffs. If Draymond commits another flagrant two foul (or two flagrant ones), he gets an automatic one-game suspension. Everyone remembers how that worked out against Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals when Green got suspended for a game in that series.

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