Memphis, Tenn. Rising star Ja Morant battled the Golden State Warriors’ defense and finished with a left-handed shot despite a foul, making it a three-pointer game with 28.9 seconds remaining, a dagger that closed the Memphis Grizzlies’ 10th straight win.
After Morant landed, he bowed out in celebration and blended a few steps into the crowd, as a young fan raised his right hand in hopes of a high five. Instead, Morant stared at the boy and barked a few words, expressing his displeasure that the kid dared to wear the Warriors jersey to FedExForum on Tuesday night.
“It was disrespectful to wear that shirt,” Morant said after the Grizzlies’ 116-108 win. “We’re Memphis. It looked like he wanted to cheer, but he was wearing this shirt. I apologize to him, but at that moment, brother, take that shirt off and then stop me. Someone finds his info. I’ll send one myself.”
Respect, or lack thereof, has been a frequent talking point for Morant over the past year. He didn’t think the Grizzlies got their due last season, when Memphis finished 38-34 before winning two games — second on the road over the Warriors — to earn the playoff berth.
“I bet we got it now,” Morant said after his 29-point and eight assists win over the Warriors. “I bet we got it now.”
The Grizzlies have made their way into conversations about the elite NBA teams by dominating for more than six weeks. Memphis won 20 of 24 games, a streak that began when Morant suffered a knee injury that kept him out of action 12 games, improving to 29-14, putting the Grizzlies in third behind the Utah Jazz in third.
“They’ve turned into one of the best teams in the league,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, praising the Grizzlies’ organization “to build this team from the ground up in the past few years.”
The Memphis last lost on December 23 to the Warriors in San Francisco. The Grizzlies’ franchise record – 10 matches – the longest active winning streak in the league – includes wins over the two best Western teams (Phoenix Suns and Warriors). The Grizzlies also beat two Las Vegas favorites – the Los Angeles Lakers (twice) and the Brooklyn Nets – during the streak.
“Number one, we’re one of the best teams in the league,” said Morant, 22, the youngest player to average at least 25 points per game in a double-digit winning streak in NBA history. Office Research. “I feel like that’s number one. And at number two, we show how deep our roster goes. No matter what’s thrown at us, we bounce from it and go out and win matches. We have to keep it going, keep playing together, and keep fighting.”
The Grizzlies pounced on the Warriors in the first half, leading by 18 points. Golden State, sparked by the energy of Gary Payton II, came back strong in the third quarter to take the lead. But Memphis closed him in at a critical time, taking 3 seconds on consecutive possessions by reserve point guard Tyus Jones (17 points, six rebounds, eight assists) to push the cushion to nine points and buckets from Morant in the final. Minute to kill any hopes of a Warriors comeback.
“They’re clearly backed by everything Ja does and how explosive he is,” said Warriors star Stephen Curry, who scored 27 triple points but only scored two in the fourth quarter. “Obviously they made us last year in the playoff and we got them twice this year, we got them once, so it’s a natural progression for a team trying to take the next step.
“The biggest part is you’re talking about it now; you have to show it in the playoffs. We want to be there to try to do that. And I know they want that too. Nobody is trying to win the verbal conversation right now who we are in January.”