SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors and Grizzlies’ second-round playoff series is no longer about basketball.
No. Now it’s all about The Code.
It’s embarrassing for the Grizzlies, the Warriors and the NBA on the whole.
There is a universe where this is an epic playoff series between two outstanding teams. It’s physical, yes, but physicality has always been a key aspect of great playoff series.
But when Dillon Brooks turned playoff physicality into something sinister in Game 2, this series went off the rails.
And as hard-fought as it is on the court, it’s become equally soft off it.
Brooks’ hack of Gary Payton II that broke the Warriors’ guard’s elbow in Game 2 “broke the code” according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr. The NBA agreed and suspended Brooks for Saturday’s Game 3.
But in a post-Brooks series, every bump, box out, and dive is subject to debate: Does it live up to The Code?
And at the end of Game 3, Grizzlies guard Ja Morant thought he found a violation. With the Warriors winning big, Warriors guard Jordan Poole and Memphis’ Ja Morant were battling for a loose ball. In the tussle, Poole grabbed Morant’s knee and, according to Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins “yanked it.”
That play chased the Grizzlies’ All-Star from the game, as he limped off the court and out of the arena.
“I’m going to be very curious to see what happens,” Jenkins said of Poole.
Presumably on his way to the hospital, Morant tweeted to his 1.9 million followers “broke the code” with a video of the play.
And while he deleted the tweet not long after, the narrative had been set, yet again.
By the way, the Warriors were wildly impressive on Saturday, winning Game 3 142-112 to take a 2-1 series lead. Poole had 27 points off the bench and the Dubs scored 62 points in the paint.
But who cares about that? Let’s get back to what is apparently the more important issue, at least to Memphis: The Code.
The first two games of this series told a story about the Grizzlies. They couldn’t beat the Warriors straight up, so they had to muck up the game and drag Golden State down into the mud. It’s not a unique game plan, but the Grizzlies felt particularly capable of executing it.
But Game 3 told a different tale.
The Grizzlies weren’t able to muck up the game — the Warriors’ path of least resistance led right to Memphis’ basket — so instead they tried to dirty the Warriors’ reputation.
It’s petty, amateur-hour stuff from a team that is clearly in its first postseason series that really matters.
This isn’t to exonerate the Warriors, either. While Brooks’ hack was unquestionably dirty — the crowd in Memphis knew it the second the play was first replayed on the video board — Kerr is the guy who brought The Code into the lexicon.
After the game, the Warriors were dismissive of any possibility that Poole’s play could be seen as dirty.
“That’s just playoff talk,” Klay Thompson said. “I don’t even think [Poole’s] strong enough to affect somebody’s knee.”
This is too emotional, too unprofessional for a series of this kind of statute; for two teams of this status.
The Warriors have been in too many playoff battles to bark this much at puppies — to be this reactionary.
And the Grizzlies need to stop showing their inexperience at every turn.
The only thing this series is missing is a memo to the NBA claiming deliberate officiating sabotage. Where’s Daryl Morey when you need him?
I don’t hold out much hope that these two teams can find mutual respect in the coming games, either. Morant’s knee injury is another pall on this series. Even if he can play in Game 4, if he’s in any way hindered, the Grizzlies ‘chances of winning are erased like his “broke the code”tweet his. Yes, Memphis went 20-5 without him in the regular season, but this is the playoffs.
It’s a different ballgame. It’s a higher level of basketball.
I wish these two teams would treat it that way.