Ja Morant sits on the bench and reacts after a team trainer examines his knee during a time out against the Golden State Warriors in the second half of Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals.Image: Getty Images
Acting like you’ve been there before might be cliché in the world of sports, but it really is the only way to operate for some franchises. For other organizations, it’s a few words some lame old guy threw together ages ago.
However, the Miami Heat continuously show us they’ve been there every day on and off the court. During game three of the Eastern Conference Finals, Jimmy Butler was on the receiving end of what could be perceived as a “dirty play” when Payton Pritchard attempted to foul Butler by grabbing at his knee/quad, ultimately tripping Jimmy, prompting the referee’s whistle.
A couple of weeks before the Butler-Pritchard play, there was a similar incident during the Golden State Warriors-Memphis Grizzlies series. Ja Morant went down with a knee injury after having his leg grabbed by Jordan Poole. Neither foul seemed dirty, but more awkward than anything.
Following the Morant play, Memphis confirmed that they had not been there before. The Ja knee injury became the biggest story for the next two days and became personal both on and off the court. In Memphis, a local TV weatherman went so far that he took to Twitter to hurl a slur at Draymond Green during the series. Memphis fans and media immediately jumped online and began the dirty play campaign, advocating for Poole to be punished similarly to Dillon Brooks after he caused Gary Payton II’s elbow injury.
I don’t care what anyone says. Brooks’ play on Payton, where he takes a swipe at his head and never goes after the ball, was dirty. He may not have “intended” to injure GP2, but his intent was a hard foul meant to send a message. Brooks accomplished that and managed to eliminate Payton, although his team eventually advanced.
We haven’t heard much about Pritchard’s play on Butler outside of Miami because it wasn’t a big deal. It’s called playoff basketball. The Heat’s star went down and they kept it moving, but meanwhile the world stopped for the Grizzlies, who let everyone know about it with Morant’s injury. Both Morant and Butler have already dealt with knee injuries all season and during the playoffs. Those love-tap fouls didn’t do any damage that wasn’t already present.
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But the Heat have been here before, so it’s nothing to them. This current Miami squad is playing in their second conference finals in three years. And advanced to the NBA Finals the other time. Not to mention the Heat having appeared in six NBA Finals, having won three. This is all part of the journey and process of making it to the top in their eyes.
For Memphis, this all showed just how new this franchise and its fan base are to being in the spotlight. Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins even fed into the dirty play narrative following the game. No one is comparing Butler to Morant in terms of ability on the court, because Ja obviously has the greater upside. But Morant was dealing with knee issues long before that play, and if he doesn’t shift his style a bit, they’ll likely continue.
Hopefully, this isn’t the case, but we’ve seen this act before with small guards like Derrick Rose, Allen Iverson, and even Dwyane Wade. That reckless, all-out, hit-the-floor-six-times-a-game style is impressive for a few years until the injuries pile up. It isn’t sustainable for playing at a high level in the long term.
It wasn’t especially shocking to see how fans reacted to the Poole play on Morant, but for the franchise itself to feed into and have this be a topic of discussion for days was ridiculous. On the flip side, Miami hasn’t said much about the Butler play, and it’s almost like nothing happened. Jimmy already had a bad knee, and no one saw anything egregious about Pritchard’s play. But it is interesting to see the reaction of one NBA team versus another on nearly identical plays.
When an organization/city is hungry for any resemblance of winning and has never come close to that, they’ll say and do just about anything to make that come to fruition. That route didn’t work for Memphis this time around, but there’s always next year.
Source by deadspin.com