2022 Playoffs: West Semifinal | Grizzlies (2) vs. Warriors (3)

Trailing 2-1, frustrated Grizzlies hope to find their way in Game 4

Memphis' mettle has been tested by the intensity and higher stakes of the conference semifinals. Can it bounce back to take Game 4 on the road?

Can Memphis get by Golden State without Ja Morant in the fold?

• Complete Grizzlies-Warriors series coverage

SAN FRANCISCO — The Memphis Grizzlies became one of the league’s best teams this season with intriguing young talent and trademark “Grit and Grind” hustle. But as they have navigated this semifinal playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, the Grizzlies appear to be thrown off by the increased intensity and competitiveness that comes with being in a conference semifinal series.

And this series — so far — has had hard, flagrant fouls, player ejections, and lots of postgame lobbying from the podium.

The Grizzlies have contributed to that. They often have become frustrated with it, too.

“They’re competitive and they want what we have,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You look at the history of the league, this is how it works. Younger teams try to take over. Any time you have those situations and those type of matchups, it gets physical and gets chippy.”

The Grizzlies’ franchise has always prided itself on its grit. Yet in this series, the team has struggled with how to exert its own physicality as well as how to absorb what’s coming at them.

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins revealed that “there is a really good chance” that leading scorer Ja Morant won’t play in Game 4 on Monday (10 ET, TNT) before the Grizzlies listed him as “doubtful” with right knee soreness.

Memphis went 20-5 this season without Morant. Yet the Grizzlies have not given him enough offensive help throughout this series. While Morant has averaged 38.3 points on 51.8% shooting and 8.3 assists against Golden State, the rest of the Grizzlies have averaged a combined 73 points on 38.4% shooting. And now the Grizzlies might have to play Game 4 without him?

“You can straight-line attribute our success to him,” Grizzlies center Xavier Tillman said.

Perhaps Memphis guard Dillon Brooks will help mitigate Morant’s expected absence. Brooks will face a hostile Warriors crowd after serving a one-game suspension in Game 3 for committing a Flagrant Foul 2 on Warriors guard Gary Payton II, a play that resulted in a fractured left elbow that will sideline Payton for possibly the rest of the postseason. But before that incident, Brooks was shooting only a combined 3-of-16 against Golden State thus far.

Have the Warriors turned a corner in this series?

“He’s got to go out there with the appropriate focus, urgency and edge on what we have to do to play winning basketball,” Jenkins said. “Just compete at a high level and help us go try to win a game.”

The Grizzlies have struggled to find that focus and edge against Golden State. They did not take advantage of an absent Draymond Green, who missed the entire second half of Game 1 after he was ejected with a Flagrant Foul 2 on Brandon Clarke. The Grizzlies did salvage Game 2, but it required 47 points from Morant, who had his way on the floor with Payton II sitting on the sidelines. In Game 3, the Warriors overcame a sluggish start to dominate in the paint (62-40) and limited Grizzlies players not named Morant and Desmond Bane to a combined 30.9% shooting clip.

In between games, the Grizzlies and Warriors have traded barbs and questioned each other’s intentions on various calls. Kerr charged that Brooks “broke the code” on Payton II because of the dangerous injury that ensued. On the same game that Brooks served his one-game suspension, Jenkins observed that Morant’s absence in the final 6:19 stemmed from Warriors’ guard Jordan Poole grabbing at Morant’s knee while chasing a loose ball. Jenkins then mimicked Kerr and said that Poole “broke the code” by injuring Morant.

We did not play our best basketball last game. The Warriors made us pay on both ends of the floor. We have to find our way as a group.”

— Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins

The Warriors have collectively rolled their eyes, laughed off the Grizzlies’ accusations and defended Poole. The Grizzlies still doubled down.

“Just trying to be matter of fact here,” Jenkins said. “This is what Ja says. This is what our medical team has said after reviewing the play. Ja was playing great and feeling great all game. The grab of the knee is what triggered the potential injury and why we took Ja out of the game.”

That is also why Grizzlies executives talked to the league and asked for a review of the play. The NBA has determined it was just a normal basketball play.

“We’re not trying to get caught up in narratives,” Jenkins stressed.

Ja Morant responds via Twitter to the play that led to his apparent leg injury in Game 3.

Nonetheless, the Grizzlies seem to have gotten sidetracked by the physical nature of the series.

In their Game 3 loss, the Grizzlies admittedly were befuddled by the Warriors’ zone defense. The Warriors dominated inside (62-44) and on the glass (34-22). The Grizzlies’ small-ball lineup hardly did much to slow down the Warriors’ perimeter threat (17-of-32). That marks a sharp contrast from when the Grizzlies ranked first in the regular season in rebounds (49.2), steals (9.8) and blocks (6.5).

“We did not play our best basketball last game,” Jenkins said. “The Warriors made us pay on both ends of the floor. We have to find our way as a group.”

For most of the season, the Grizzlies were hardly intimidated by older, more experienced teams. The Warriors were among many that praised the Grizzlies’ young talent and work ethic as well as the coaching staff’s focus on accountability and player development.

In Game 4, the Grizzlies have vowed to tap into those qualities to ensure better execution.

* * *

Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.