It's official: The Memphis Grizzlies will be without star point guard Ja Morant for Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Warriors on Monday night at Chase Center, Grizzlies coach Tayler Jenkins told reporters before the game.
Morant has been ruled out with right knee soreness.
Jenkins said that Tyus Jones will start in Morant's place
The first-time All-Star and winner of the NBA's Most Improved Player award this season left the Warriors' Game 3 blowout win Saturday night early after appearing to hurt his right knee. Morant walked to the team bus on his own after the game, though he did have a clear limp. Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins then insinuated Warriors guard Jordan Poole triggered Morant's injury on a dirty play by grabbing his knee and yanking it.
Morant even went to Twitter to tweet a clip of the play that Jenkins referred to, with the caption "broke the code" -- something Steve Kerr accused Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks of when he wound up and clubbed Gary Payton II in the back of the head in mid-air during the Warriors' Game 2 loss, fracturing Payton's left elbow.
He later deleted the tweet.
However, a different angle of the play shows that Poole hardly grabbed Morant's knee while going for the ball as he and Andrew Wiggins double-teamed him. There also is evidence that Morant hurt the same knee earlier in the third quarter when jumping towards Klay Thompson and clanking knees, a play that looked to have caused much more pain for Morant than the Poole play in question.
Jenkins on Sunday dangerously doubled down on his feelings that Poole injured Morant, intentional or not.
"As I said last night, just trying to be matter-of-fact here," Jenkins said Sunday. "This is what Ja says, what our medical team has said after reviewing the play. I mean, Ja was playing great, feeling great all game and the grab of the knee is what triggered the potential injury and why we took Ja out of the game.
"Nothing has changed from there in terms of that was the play that triggered this and he's got further evaluation that's going on with his knee."
Morant played 36 minutes in Game 3 and still led both sides with 34 points. He also added seven assists, three rebounds and three steals before exiting early.
The Grizzlies obviously are far less talented without Morant, but might not be far worse. At least that's what their regular-season record suggests. They went 20-5 without him, which amounts to an .800 win percentage. Memphis was 36-21 in games with Morant, good for a .632 win percentage.
When Morant missed the Grizzlies' game against the Warriors on March 28, Memphis beat Golden State by 28 points. It should be noted that Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green also missed that game.
"Memphis went 20-5 without him," Kerr said Monday morning after shootaround when asked about Morant possibly not playing Game 4. "They're a hell of a team for a reason, they're really deep. While it may change a scheme or two in terms of how we're guarding, it doesn't change our respect for what they're capable of."
Minutes before the Morant news broke, the Warriors announced that Kerr has tested positive for COVID-19 and won't coach Game 4. Mike Brown will take over as acting head coach until Kerr is ready to return.
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With Morant stuck to the sidelines, the Grizzlies' offense might actually see more ball movement since Morant is so ball-dependent. They'll also need their role players to step up, like point guard Tyus Jones, as well as guards De'Anthony Melton and Brooks, who is returning from a one-game suspension but isn't much of an offensive threat anyway.
Jones has scored just seven total points in the first three games of the second round, going 2-for-16 from the field and 0-for-8 on 3-point attempts.
Yes, the Grizzlies had success without Morant in the regular season. These are the playoffs, though -- a whole new game compared to the previous 82.
Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. was phenomenal in Game 1, scoring 33 points to Morant's 34 as they lost by one point in the final second to the Warriors. But in Game 2, rookie Ziaire Williams was the Grizzlies' second-leading scorer with 14 points off the bench while Morant was a one-man show with 47 points, and Desmond Bane was their second-leading scorer on Saturday night but put up just 16 points.
Losing Morant is a huge blow to the Grizzlies, and Game 4 could look much different than past contests between these two teams.