SAN FRANCISCO — Ja Morant tweeted – and then deleted – those three defining words.
“Broke the code,” he wrote upon limping to the bus waiting to take these Memphis Grizzlies away from the carnage inflicted upon them at the Chase Center Saturday night.
They had nothing to do with the outcome of Game 3, a 142-112 bludgeoning delivered by the Golden State Warriors that sent an unmistakable message about how hard it will be to take out these former champions.
But those three words, the words Golden State coach Steve Kerr first invoked to describe the flagrant foul committed by Dillon Brooks in Game 2, have everything to do with the Grizzlies’ approach to the Western Conference semifinals trailing 2-1 moving forward.
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Were they words born from defiance, from a player undeterred by the deluge rained upon his team by Golden State?
Were they words of desperation, of a team grasping at anything to take the attention away from a defeat in which they looked completely out-matched?
Or were they words filled with pain, from a star whose health is the only chance Memphis has to knock off these proud Warriors?
The answer is far more important than the debate over Jordan Poole’s intent when he “grabbed” Morant’s knee and “yanked it” late in the fourth quarter, according to Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins.
But given how the start to this series played out, with ejections in all three games and controversial flagrant fouls preceding this latest episode, it was of course the talk of postgame. Just as soon as Jenkins brought it up
“I’m actually very curious to see what happens,” he said, and then wouldn’t bite when asked if that meant he thought the league needed to look at the play, or if he was implying Poole did this intentionally.
“I didn’t notice the play,” Kerr said, which was awfully convenient for the guy who created this code discussion.
Desmond Bane, meanwhile, called it a “controllable” situation that put Morant in an awkward spot. Steph Curry said there was no comparison to the flagrant fouls committed by Brooks and Draymond Green in the first two games of the series, and declared the conversation about Poole to be “total BS.” Memphis guard De’Anthony Melton said he would roll with whatever Morant felt about the play.
“No one is out here dirty. No one is out here like that. But it’s just unfortunate,” Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Grizzlies said, and then he let slip a dig. “You know the code. Talk about the code all series at this point.”
“We’re not out there trying to hurt people or trying to club people in the back of the head on a fastbreak,” Klay Thompson of the Warriors finally concluded. “We play the game the right way.”
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It’s the last part that bothered the Grizzlies, even before Morant even got injured.
They were quietly seething in private about Kerr’s “broke the code” comments heading into Game 3, though the only public response came from Jenkins during Wednesday’s practice before the Grizzlies left for San Francisco. They noticed, just like you did, the hypocrisy of a franchise and a coach that turns a blind eye to Green’s antics claiming the moral high ground.
So it’s not important that, at first glance, Poole’s play doesn’t appear to pass the “dirty” test like the fouls committed by Brooks and Green might have. He collided with Morant’s knee, then grabbed it again while attempting to grab the ball. It was perhaps reckless, but didn’t seem premeditated.
It’s more important that it matters to Memphis because it’s Memphis that must respond quickly, or else this series will slip away.
It’s more important that Morant is injured and, if this latest injury limits him in any serious way or keeps him from playing Game 4 on Monday, it’s an injury Memphis can’t survive, no matter how successful it may have been without Morant during the regular season.
It’s more important that Golden State grabbed control Saturday, of the series and the narrative surrounding the series, and the Grizzlies must do everything they can to grab it back in Game 4.
Brooks will be back, Bane is looking healthier, Jenkins can still turn to Steven Adams for a jolt, and one defense-less performance can be remedied with one Memphis win. There’s still a chance, depending on what those three words actually meant.
Were they the beginning of the end to this contentious series, and the moment when the Warriors broke Morant and Memphis? Or will they become the rallying cry that pushes these Grizzlies to another breakthrough few saw coming.
Stay tuned for the answer.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: What Ja Morant’s tweet means for Grizzlies to beat Golden State