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Grizzlies intend to send message to struggling Warriors

Dec 23, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) celebrates a shot against the Phoenix Suns in the second half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies will have momentum and motivation on their side when they make their Christmas Day debut against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night in San Francisco.

Coming off a dominant 125-100 road triumph over the Phoenix Suns on Friday, the Grizzlies get to turn their attention to the team that eliminated them in a tense six-game playoff series last May.

Memphis lost star Ja Morant to a knee injury late in a Game 3 loss at Golden State. He sat out the remainder of the series, and the Grizzlies fell four games to two.

The Warriors also suffered a key injury in Game 2 of the series when Gary Payton II fractured his elbow as the result of a hard foul by Dillon Brooks, who drew a one-game suspension. Payton also missed the rest of the series.

Seeded third in the Western postseason, Golden State earned advancement over the second-seeded Grizzlies by winning Game 1 on the road and then sweeping its three home games. It needed a late flurry of five 3-pointers from Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins to rally from a fourth-quarter deficit in the clinching Game 6.

The Grizzlies didn’t take elimination well. Not only did several players and coach Taylor Jenkins complain loudly about their belief that the Warriors’ Jordan Poole had caused Morant’s injury, but Morant himself insisted Memphis would have advanced if not for the mishap.

Morant recently added fuel to the fire when asked about the road to a possible championship this season. He said it went through Boston, and when given an opportunity to throw Golden State, the defending champion, into the conversation, responded, “Nah, I’m fine in the West.”

The Grizzlies looked more than fine in drubbing the defending Western regular-season champs, the Suns, in their lead-in to the Golden State rematch.

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke had 24 points and 10 rebounds apiece, Desmond Bane returned from a toe injury to chip in with 17 points and Morant put up a double-double (12 points, 11 assists) before complaining that the Grizzlies would get no respect even after the 25-point romp.

“It’s always going to be something,” Morant insisted. “Even though we won this game, obviously they wasn’t at full strength, so that’s going to be the thing now. If we had to lose, they couldn’t wait to say, ‘Yea, since Ja said this they lost.’ It’s going to be that way every time.”

With a 10th straight Christmas Day game on the schedule, the Warriors return home after a 1-5 trip that ended with 38- and 30-point drubbings at New York and Brooklyn, respectively.

Golden State played the final four games of the trip without Curry, who remains out with a slightly dislocated left shoulder and will miss at least two more weeks. They also were missing Wiggins (strained adductor) for the entire trip and key reserve Donte DiVincenzo (illness) for the last two losses, but both practiced during the Warriors’ three days off and are expected to face the Grizzlies.

The Warriors have beaten their last two opponents in NBA Finals — Boston at home and Toronto on the road — for the only wins in their last nine games, and Draymond Green believes it’s time for him and his mates to start taking a disappointing 15-18 start more seriously.

“You start going through these things and then you start believing them,” Green said. “Once you start believing them, it becomes who you are. The only way to break them is by being mentally tough.”

–Field Level Media