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Ja Morant Injury Reignites Conversation on ‘The Code’

The testy Warriors-Grizzlies series has brought players’ unwritten rules about fouls to the forefront of the series.

SAN FRANCISCO – A testy playoff series marked by hard fouls and hard feelings, ejections, accusations and brutal injuries got more of everything Saturday night.

The Warriors rolled over the Grizzlies for a 142–112 victory and a 2–1 lead in this second-round series, but the focus afterward was mostly on the state of Ja Morant’s right knee—and the strange play that knocked him out of the game and sparked yet another debate over what constitutes a dirty play.

Morant, the Grizzlies’ star point guard, limped off the court with 6:19 left in the game, his team trailing by 17 points, after injuring his right knee moments earlier. He did not return. After the game, Morant walked to the team bus with a pronounced limp, though without crutches.

The team offered no initial diagnosis.

But the Grizzlies had plenty to say about the cause of the injury – specifically calling out Warriors guard Jordan Poole for grabbing Morant’s knee during a scramble for the ball with 6:55 left in the game. Poole and Andrew Wiggins had trapped Morant near halfcourt. Poole poked the ball loose from behind, then reached again with his right hand, but caught Morant’s knee instead.

The sequence wasn’t evident in real time, but the Grizzlies were clearly incensed after watching the slow-motion replays after the game.

“He was going after a dribble and Jordan Poole actually grabbed his knee and yanked it, which kind of triggered whatever happened,” coach Taylor Jenkins said.

Jenkins stopped short of saying Poole did it intentionally, but he did imply the play should be reviewed by the league—presumably to determine whether any discipline is warranted. “I’m actually going to be very curious to see what happens after that,” Jenkins said, alluding to a possible league review.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) shoots the ball against Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney (5) during the fourth quarter of game three of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs

From there, the night turned into another back-and-forth of grievances, snipes and counterattacks, extending a series-long debate about fouls and foul play. Warriors star Draymond Green was ejected in Game 1 for a hard takedown of Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke—a play officials deemed a flagrant foul penalty-2, though the Warriors argued it wasn’t that severe.

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In Game 2, it was Grizzlies swingman Dillon Brooks who earned the flagrant-2 and an ejection, for launching into an airborne Gary Payton II, clocking him in the head and sending him crashing to the deck. Payton fractured his left elbow on the play, probably ending his postseason. The league suspended Brooks for Game 3.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr called the Brooks foul “dirty” and said it “broke the code” that players should not jeopardize another player’s career. The Grizzlies came to Brooks’ defense in the aftermath. And on Saturday, they turned Kerr’s words back on him.

“Broke the code,” Morant tweeted moments after he limped to the bus. The phrase appeared over a video of the play where Poole grabbed his knee. Morant later deleted the tweet.

“It was a basketball play,” Poole said, explaining the sequence. “I hit the ball, and I was going for the ball. I mean, 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.”

The Warriors' Klay Thompson brushed off Morant's tweet as "playoff talk."

"I don't think there's any malicious intent from Jordan," Thompson said. "I don't even think he's strong enough to affect somebody's knee. But we're not out there trying to hurt people or trying to club people in the back of the head on a fast break. We play the game the right way, and I'm going to have his back."

Morant put up 34 points and seven assists before the injury, assembling another highlight reel of acrobatic layups while going 4-for-7 from the arc. The Grizzlies’ magical run this season now pivots on the state of Morant’s knee—though it’s worth remembering they went 20–5 in games he missed due to injury during the regular season.

Even with a healthy Morant, the Grizzlies will have no chance of pulling out the series if they can’t put up a little more resistance to the Warriors’ potent offense. Golden State shot 63 percent in Game 3, including a 17-for-32 night at the arc. The 142 points were the most scored by any team in this postseason, and the second most in the Warriors’ playoff history. Their 78-point second half tied a franchise playoff record for points in a half.

Game 4 will be played here Monday night, against the backdrop of an increasingly tense debate over dirty fouls and unwritten codes.

“No one’s out here dirty,” said the Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr. “No one’s out here like that. It’s just unfortunate. You know, `the code’—we're gonna talk about `the code’ all series at this point.” 

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