LOS ANGELES: Ja Morant erupted for 47 points as the Memphis Grizzlies outmuscled the Golden State Warriors to level their Western Conference NBA playoff series with a bruising 106-101 victory on Tuesday.
Morant’s career-high playoff points total dragged Memphis over the line to square the best-of-seven semifinal series at 1-1 after a nail-biting duel at the FedEx Forum in Tennessee.
But a physical encounter was shrouded in controversy, with the Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks ejected after only three minutes for flattening the Warriors’ Gary Payton II as he drove for a basket.
Payton played no further part in the contest and Warriors coach Steve Kerr later confirmed he had suffered a fractured elbow.
The Warriors’ Draymond Green, ejected in Game 1 on Sunday, was also on the receiving end of the Grizzlies’ robust tactics, needing prolonged treatment in the locker room in the first quarter after being stiff-armed by Xavier Tillman.
Kerr later described the Grizzlies first-quarter approach as “dirty not physical” and accused Brooks of “breaking the code” among NBA professionals.
“There’s a code in this league that players follow where you never put a guy’s season or career in jeopardy by taking somebody out in mid-air and clubbing him across the head and ultimately fracturing Gary’s elbow,” Kerr said. “Dillon Brooks broke the code. That’s how I see it.”
Despite the physical nature of Memphis’s play, it was the silky skills of Morant that ultimately proved decisive, the 22-year-old pouring in 18 of his team’s fourth-quarter points to seal victory as the teams head back to California for Game 3 on Saturday.
Victory was sweet for Morant, who admitted he had been tormented by what would have been a game-winning missed layup in Sunday’s one-point loss in Game 1.
“That loss was on my mind a lot, missing that layup late, so coming in today I told myself we needed a win and we were going to get a win,” Morant said afterwards.
“I just took it upon myself to go out there and do that for us.
“A team like Golden State, they’re never out of the game. We just have to lock in, keep our foot on the gas and play for the full 48 minutes.”
Stephen Curry led the Warriors scoring with 27 points while Jordan Poole finished with 20.
But the Warriors were left ruing a wayward shooting performance which saw the team make only 40 of 95 attempts from the field.
In Boston, Jaylen Brown finished with 30 points as the Celtics bounced back to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 109-86 and level their Eastern Conference playoff series.
Brown produced a masterclass of shooting as the Celtics sprinted away from the NBA champions in a rampant first-half display at the TD Garden which saw them surge into a decisive 65-40 lead.
Brown went 9-for-10 from the field in the first two quarters, including five three-pointers, in a devastating points blitz which left the Bucks scrambling to gain a foothold in the contest.
The 25-year-old shooting guard finished with 30 points, five rebounds and six assists while Jayson Tatum had 29 points with eight assists.
Grant Williams added 21 from the bench as Boston completed a wire-to-wire victory just two days after being humbled 101-89 in Game 1 on Sunday.
“It was one game, we weren’t going to let one game define our season,” Brown said of the Celtics’ response to their game-one loss. “We’ve been resilient all year. Playoffs is all about how you respond.
“The first game we got punched in the mouth, but tonight we came back and threw the first punch and we won.”
Despite an improved offensive performance in the third quarter, where Milwaukee outscored the Celtics 26-18, Boston’s high-scoring first-half performance ensured they maintained a comfortable double-digit lead advantage throughout the second half.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks scorers with 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while Jrue Holiday contributed 19.
Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton had 13 points each for the Bucks, who will now return to Milwaukee for Game 3 of the best-of-seven series on Saturday.