By Terrance Turner
May 1, 2022
The Golden State Warriors began a best-of-seven playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies today. Memphis players Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson, Jr. made history with stellar performances, and Golden State suffered a major blow with the ejection of defender Draymond Green. But the Warriors overcame that absence to win a thrilling Game 1.
Morant, and Jackson started for the Grizzlies; Gary Payton, Jr. joined Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green as starters for Golden State. According to ESPN, “Morant opened the game with back-to-back 3s, half of what he made the entire first round against Minnesota, and he had 14 to help the Grizzlies lead 32-24 after the first quarter. It marked the first time Memphis held an opponent to fewer than 30 points this postseason.
The Grizzlies led by as much as 13 in the second quarter and were up 61-55 at halftime. But by then, a controversial foul call had sent ripples across the NBA multiverse. As Memphis forward Brandon Clarke went up for a dunk with 1:18 left in the second quarter, Green initially made contact with Clarke’s head and then grabbed the collar of Clarke’s jersey in the process, pulling him down to the ground.
“My hand got caught in his jersey,” Green emphatically told Warriors coach Steve Kerr. He then echoed the same message to the referees as they gathered to review the call. They ruled it a flagrant 2 foul, and Green was ejected from the game.
Green ran around the court, high-fiving teammates and waving the crowd as boos rained down upon him. He left the game two minutes before halftime. ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith defended Green, blasting NBA officials.
“I think that’s an utterly ridiculous decision by the officiating crew,” Smith said. “To have the guy ejected, and to compromise the potential outcome and to leave us in a position where we’re talking about this ejection as opposed to talking about two high-end competitors going after it, I think this tarnishes the level of competition that was out there today,” he fumed, acting as if the ejection of Green would somehow cost the Warriors the game.
Ja Morant stole a pass and lobbed it to Clarke for an alley-oop that tied the game at 108. But the game would be tied at least four more times before all was said and done. A foul call on Clarke yielded two successful free throws for Wiggins. Brooks exploited a wide-opne lane for an emphatic slam to tie it at 110.
With 2:25 remaining, Morant drove to the hoop for the layup and the foul! He missed the free throw, leaving it a two-point game. Curry missed a three-pointer, but Golden State kept it aive and Wiggins dunked to tie it up at 112. Morant answered with a clutch basket, but Curry found Gary Payton with a wild pass, and he tied things up again at 114.
The scoring flurry stopped briefly on a controversial play. As players fought for a rebound, Payton grabbed the ball and fell, losing possession. The ball went between Wiggins’ legs and went out of bounds, just as Clarke was reaching for it. Memphis launched a coach’s challenge, and further replay revealed that Wiggins had touched the ball just before it went out of bounds.
Morant lobbed the ball to Clarke, who pushed Memphis ahead by two with an alley-oop.After a missed three-pointer by Curry, Wiggins tipped the ball leftward. Klay Thompson and Dillon Brooks collided and fell onto the court, fighting for the ball. A jump bal was knocked out of bounds by Memphis, making it Golden State’s ball. Thompson fired off a three-pointer that would turn out to be the dagger.
With 36 seconds left, the ball was in Morant’s hands. He went up for a shot, but it ws knocked away by Curry. He hurled a pass to Wiggins, who passed to Poole. And Poole got fouled hard by Morant with just 11 seconds left. The Warriors called a timeout.
When play resumed, Thompson got fouled — and somehow missed both of his free throws. After the second miss, a bevy of players jumped up for the rebound, and the ball was (again) knocked out of bounds. Another jump ball was recovered by Jackson with just 3.6 seconds remaining.
Memphis had one last chance to win. But Morant’s scoop layup was no good. Golden State held on to win, 117-116. And as Warriors players walked off the field in triumph, Draymond Green was there to greet them.
Ja Morant scored 34 points, and Jaren Jackson had 33. Warriors player Jordan Poole had a breakout game with 31 points; it’s the first game in NBA playoff history to feature three 30-point scorers aged 22 or younger. Curry scored 24, and Andrew Wiggins had 17 points for the Warriors; Klay Thompson added 15.