LOS ANGELES – After the Memphis Grizzlies’ workout Sunday on the University of Southern California’s campus, Ja Morant exhibited the confidence fans have come to know – and rely upon – during the soaring point guard’s association with the team that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
At several points and for varying reasons (some of them very public), the two-time All-Star has not quite been himself of late. Such was not the case at Sunday’s post-workout media availability. He clearly was in a good mood.
The media session was sandwiched between his near triple-double performance (45 points, 13 assists and 9 rebounds) in the Grizzlies’ 111-101 loss to the Lakers in L.A. on Saturday and their Game 4 matchup on Monday evening.
Understandably, there were questions about what it will take for the Grizzlies to get off to a better start after a historically bad first quarter in the Game 3 loss. Memphis was thumped 35 to 9, shooting a paltry 12 percent. Only three of their 25 shots went through the rim.
“By us missing shots, it allowed them to get out a lot of transition points early on,” said Morant. “That (scoring in transition) is how we want to play. Making shots helps with that. We can’t let missed shots dictate … the defensive end. We have to sprint back.”
Morant offered this assessment of what he must do better in Game 4.
“Take care of the ball (he had three turnovers) and set the tone for us. I can’t allow us to have first quarters like that. I have to find my spots and take what the defense gives me.”
With the No. 7 seed Lakers up two games to one in the best-of-seven, opening round of the West Conference series, the No. 2 seed Grizzlies can restore order and reclaim home court with a win at L.A.’s Crypto Arena.
“This game is important. Every game is important,” Morant said. “One game doesn’t win a series, but you want to win every time. This game is big for us, especially going back home.”
The Grizzlies will have the services of Dillon Brooks, who was ejected 13 seconds into the third quarter for a flagrant 2, below the belt foul on LeBron James.
“I never got an explanation,” said Brooks about the referees’ decision. “I made a play on the ball. He went behind his back. I tried to get a steal on the ball and I hit his groin area.”
The L.A. crowd, which already was primed to boo Brooks for comments after the Grizzlies’ Game-2 win in Memphis, took its disdain for him up a notch as they learned he had been kicked out of Game 3.
Brooks was resolved to push past his ejection. “Get thrown out of a game and just come back and play the same way. I will play more physical.”
As for the atmosphere, Brooks said, “Just focus on the game plan. Focus on what is going on, on the floor. Try to hold my matchup to the way I want to do.”
He was asked if it was tough not being able to be on the court with his teammates after the ejection.
“I have been dealing with this for the last two years. The fans can talk s— if they want to. It doesn’t matter to me. I am going to keep playing my game no matter what.”
Asked to amplify what he meant by “dealing with this for the last two years,” Brooks said, “The media making me a villain. The fans making me a villain. … I am just playing basketball and a basketball player.”
Zeroing in on where James was fouled, and the rules regarding a flagrant two foul, Brooks said, “If you think I did that, that means you think I am that type of person. That is why I don’t rank (referee) Mark Taylor at all.”
While not a must-win game, Game 4 comes with big stakes for the Grizzlies and their pursuit of a championship. Tipoff is set for about 9 p.m. CST, with the telecast on TNT.