BY DAVID THORPE
There might never be another Allen Iverson, but Ja Morant is close. Beyond athletic, courageous, and genuine, scoring over giants while totally human-sized, he has made the leap from potential All-Star to MVP candidate in just three seasons. He’s not just a human highlight but also the best player on a team with big aspirations. Of course Memphis is a contender, they have Ja.
And so it was a giant blow when Ja suffered a knee injury. He is out for several weeks, although reports are he will be back in time for the playoffs.
Out of that sad story, though, comes one of this NBA season’s great wonders: After squeaking past the Spurs on Wednesday, the Grizzlies are an unthinkable 19-2 without Ja Morant.
What in the hell?
19-2 is an insane 90 percent win rate–higher than any team in NBA history has ever managed for a whole season. The Grizzlies have lucked into:
Golden State missing Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson.
The Bucks without Jrue Holiday.
The Sixers without Joel Embiid.
The Heat without Bam Adebayo.
The Mavericks without Luka.
The Clippers without Paul George.
So what? Morant is likely a first-team All-NBA performer this season. And that Warriors win came with both Morant and Jaren Jackson, Jr.(Triple J) out. Winning games without a full roster is an NBA tradition for great teams, especially this time of year.
The Grizzlies are not just winning. They are hurting teams.
On Saturday, the defending champion Bucks visited Memphis. The Bucks have had their own injury issues this season, and were missing Jrue Holiday, but for this game they had Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and most of the key players of their title-winning team.
The Grizzlies had a 15-point lead early in the fourth quarter when Giannis drew a foul, and two free throws. This is a moment when you will often see some clapping, some psyching each other up, some belief on behalf of the trailing team. An ability to believe is part of being a champion.
Yet not a single Bucks player clapped even once after Giannis drew the call. No coach reacted either. They were a beaten team, with no hope, like they were watching a movie and they already knew the ending. That is not something we see often in the NBA, especially with good teams. But like a boxer taking their opponents breath away with repeated body blows, the Grizzlies had already done their work.
They are winning in a certain way. Here are some examples:
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to TrueHoop to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.