Budding Warriors-Grizzlies rivalry to pit Klay Thompson, Ja Morant
Two of the NBA’s hottest commodities — not to mention Stephen Curry, who also will be on hand — will be on display Tuesday night when the Golden State Warriors continue their budding rivalry with the host Memphis Grizzlies.
Sparked by a Klay Thompson dunk and a Ja Morant block, the Warriors and Grizzlies wrestled part of the spotlight away from an epic NFL final day Sunday, building momentum for their third meeting of the year and fifth since the final day of the 2021 regular season.
The clubs have split this year’s earlier head-to-heads, with each commanding much more attention than your average NBA regular-season contest.
It began when the Grizzlies improbably duplicated their play-in victory over the Warriors last May with another overtime triumph in the second week of the regular season.
Then, two days before Christmas, Golden State, which had put itself one win from a playoff berth with a victory in the 2021 regular-season finale, finally avenged the eventual bid denial with a 113-104 win.
All four games were played in San Francisco.
The scene now shifts to Memphis, with the Grizzlies, on the strength of a nine-game winning streak, having moved within 3 1/2 games of the Warriors in the Western standings after having been eight games back on Nov. 29.
Morant has led the Grizzlies’ charge. Just a week removed from a sprained knee that sidelined him for 12 games, the 2020 Rookie of the Year strung together 33-, 41-, 30- and 36-point outings to ignite Memphis’ franchise-record nine-game winning streak.
As impressive as Morant’s numbers were the teams they came against — the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets.
Morant doubled his pleasure in a 127-119 road win over the Lakers on Sunday, pulling a LeBron James in front of the L.A. superstar with a two-handed, backboard-sweeping block on an Avery Bradley layup early in the victory.
“He got rockets in his calf muscles,” James said of Morant afterward. “It was a spectacular play. It was a great play. Salute.”
Morant went for 30 points in the earlier win over the Warriors, then 21 in the rematch. The second of those outputs was accomplished while flanked by standout sidekick Dillon Brooks, who suffered an ankle injury Saturday and won’t face the Warriors, and both were compiled without the defensive resistance of Thompson, who was still rehabbing a torn ACL that had resulted as he was rehabbing a torn Achilles.
Thompson needed just 40 seconds Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers to put up his first points since the 2019 NBA Finals.
The hoop brought Warriors fans to their feet, but the best was yet to come. That occurred late in the second period, when Thompson, known more for his catch-and-shoot prowess, drove by taller opponent Jarrett Allen for a resounding dunk that formally stamped his Achilles and knee as fully repaired.
“It’s funny because I didn’t dunk the whole two months of scrimmaging,” Thompson noted after his 17-point night. “It felt so good to throw that down. I did not expect that.
“I’m very pleased with my efforts tonight. I missed some shots I always make, but I’m just happy that I can say that because I couldn’t say that the last two years. I can go back, re-watch the film and see how I’ll be better for Memphis.”
Thompson hasn’t faced the Grizzlies since April 2019, and that hardly counts. He played only the first half of the Warriors’ regular-season finale, scoring 19 points in 17 minutes, before being rested for the start of the run to a fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
Get the hottest sports news straight into your inbox
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.