Ja Morant’s apparent knee injury adds to Grizzlies’ frustration after Game 3

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Ja Morant suffered an apparent right knee injury Saturday and then insinuated that Jordan Poole was responsible, adding another chapter to a dramatic series between the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors that has been marked by hard fouls and hurt feelings.

Golden State claimed a 142-112 blowout victory in Game 3 at Chase Center in San Francisco thanks to a team-high 30 points from Stephen Curry. But the Warriors’ dominance took a back seat to the Grizzlies’ frustration when Morant limped to the locker room midway through the fourth quarter.

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With a little under seven minutes remaining in regulation, Morant was double-teamed by Andrew Wiggins and Poole near midcourt. As Morant turned his back to Poole to shield the ball, the Warriors’ guard held Morant’s left arm and reached around to poke the ball free. Morant quickly regained possession, but Poole, still in pursuit of the ball, reached down and briefly grabbed Morant’s right knee.

Wiggins was called for a reach-in foul on the play and Morant flexed his right knee while at the free throw line. Shortly thereafter, Morant gingerly left the court, let out a scream while on the Grizzlies’ bench and later departed for the locker room.

During his postgame news conference, Grizzlies Coach Taylor Jenkins said that Morant was “getting evaluated now” and that there was no official diagnosis. Jenkins then said that he would speak with Grizzlies General Manager Zach Kleiman about possibly contacting the NBA league office regarding Poole’s contact.

“Jordan Poole actually grabbed [Morant’s] knee and yanked it, which kind of triggered whatever happened,” Jenkins said. “I’m actually going to be very curious to see what happens after that.”

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Shortly thereafter, Morant posted a video clip of the foul to his Twitter account with the caption: “Broke the code.”

Morant deleted the tweet, which referenced a recent comment made by Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, and left the arena without taking questions from reporters.

After Game 2, Kerr said that Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks “broke the code” with his flagrant foul on Warriors guard Gary Payton II. Brooks was ejected from Game 2 and suspended by the NBA for Game 3 because of the foul, which left Payton sidelined with a fractured left elbow.

“It was dirty,” Kerr said of Brooks’s midair blow to Payton’s head. “Playoff basketball is supposed to be physical. Everybody is going to compete and fight for everything, but there’s a code in this league and a code that players follow. You never put a guy’s season [or] career in jeopardy. … He broke the code. Dillon Brooks broke the code.”

Poole, who scored 27 points off the bench in the Game 3 win, said that he had made a “basketball play” while defending Morant.

“We doubled him,” said Poole, one of the breakout stars of these playoffs. “I hit the ball and I was going for the ball. Obviously, you don’t want to see anybody get hurt. I’m not even that type of player. I respect everybody. Hopefully he gets better, and we can see him out there next game. I don’t even play like that for real. That’s not my type of game.”

Curry stood up for Poole, saying that there was “nothing malicious” about his teammate’s defense.

“There’s no comparison to what Dillon did,” Curry said. “It’s not a joking matter that Ja’s hurt, but all the rest of it is total B.S. in terms of the conversation right now.”

Warriors forward Klay Thompson added: “I don’t even think [Poole] is strong enough to affect somebody’s knee. We’re not out there trying to hurt people or club people in the back of the head on a fast break. We play the game the right way. I’m going to have his back.”

Morant finished with a game-high 34 points, three rebounds and seven assists in 36 minutes, but the Grizzlies’ hopes of overcoming the Warriors’ 2-1 series lead rely heavily on their all-star guard’s availability. The schedule does Memphis no favors: After three off days before Game 3, Game 4 will take place Monday and Game 5 is Wednesday. Game 6, if necessary, will be Friday.

While the Grizzlies posted a 20-5 record without Morant during the regular season, the 22-year-old guard has carried their offense during this series. Morant scored 47 points in Game 2 on Tuesday, notching 15 consecutive points to close out the win.

Memphis will get Brooks back for Game 4, but Desmond Bane has been playing through back tightness in this series. If Morant misses time or is limited physically, the Grizzlies will almost certainly struggle to keep pace with the Warriors, who rank first in offensive efficiency in the playoffs.

“[Morant] has seen so many different coverages over this playoff run right now,” Jenkins said. “Give him a lot of credit. He’s aggressive, playing with force, getting to his spots on the floor. He’s got a lot on his shoulders and he’s rising to the occasion. He’s playing brilliant basketball right now.”

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