The Memphis Grizzlies are not going out like that.
Expected by some to fold with their All-Star guard sidelined, the Grizzlies flipped the script on Wednesday in a stunning Game 5 rout of the Golden State Warriors. With Ja Morant in street clothes thanks to a bone bruise in his right knee, the Grizzlies cruised to a 134-95 victory to send the series back to San Francisco, trailing 3-2.
The Warriors with their core that’s won three championships were overmatched from the tip as the Grizzlies opened a 38-28 first-quarter lead that they extended to 77-50 at halftime thanks largely to converting 14 first-half Golden State turnovers into 25 points. Memphis didn’t let off the gas after halftime. In a game of runs, the Grizzlies made them all when it mattered as they outscored the Warriors, 42-17 in the third quarter as the game’s margin began to flirt with NBA history.
Grizzlies flirt with history before both teams empty benches
The Grizzlies led by as many as 55 points. The largest margin in playoff history is 58, held jointly by the 2009 Denver Nuggets over the New Orleans Hornets and the 1956 Minneapolis Lakers over the St. Louis Hawks. Only when both teams emptied their benches on Wednesday did the Warriors close the margin to less than 50, leaving Memphis to settle for the game’s final 39-point margin.
The Warriors, in their second game with head coach Steve Kerr sidelined in COVID-19 protocols, waved the white flag with five minutes remaining — in the third quarter. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry joined interim and soon-to-be Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown on the bench for the final minutes of the third quarter and didn’t return to the court. This one was settled long before the final buzzer.
No Ja, no problem
Morant may be the league’s most recently crowned superstar. But the Grizzlies have thrived with or without him all season, posting a 20-5 record in the regular season when Morant didn’t play. They did so again on Wednesday thanks to a stifling defense and a team effort to pick up the slack on offense. Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane and Tyus Jones all tallied 21 points in 25 minutes or fewer.
Jackson added eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks while he and Bane each shot 4 of 6 from 3-point distance. Jones shot 4 of 7 from beyond the arc. The return of Steven Adams from COVID-19 protocols continued to pay dividends as he controlled the boards with a game-high 13 rebounds and provided a counter to Green that Memphis didn’t have early in the series.
The Warriors didn’t have a bad night from the field, where they shot 45%. It’s just hard to keep up when the opposing team hoists 19 more field goals and 17 more free throws. The Grizzlies dominated the ball, forcing 22 Warriors turnovers while giving it away just nine times. They outbounded the Warriors, 55-37. They assisted on 37 of their 47 made field goals while shooting 47.5% from the field and 43.9% from 3-point distance.
Meanwhile, no Warriors player eclipsed 20 points. Thompson led the way with 19, while Curry added 14 and four assists. Green matched his point total with a game-high five turnovers. Every Grizzlies starter posted a plus/minus rating of plus-32 or better. This was a clinic against a team that many had penciled in for a date in the Western Conference finals. Hold that thought.
The Grizzlies don’t expect Morant to return for Game 6 or beyond. But they proved on Wednesday that it’s folly to count them out.