Grizzlies ‘broke the code’ in Game 2 win over Warriors as series takes nasty turn

Grizzlies ‘broke the code’ in Game 2 win over Warriors as series takes nasty turn

MEMPHIS — A budding rivalry has turned into a brawl. Competitive juices have become a geyser of animosity.

This series, tied 1-1 and headed back to Chase Center, has become fiery.

“There’s a code in this league,” said a seething Steve Kerr after the Golden State Warriors lost Game 2 106-101. “A code that players follow. You never put a guy’s season/career in jeopardy. Taking someone out in midair and clubbing him across the head.

“Dillon Brooks broke the code.”

It took less than three minutes for the promised physicality to emerge. The Grizzlies, down 1-0 in their building, were desperate. They hadn’t taken advantage of the Warriors in Game 1, despite Draymond Green being ejected for a flagrant-2 foul. Kerr said earlier in the day that his team would face its most physical test of the season.

“They’re coming after us,” Kerr predicted.

He was correct. The Grizzlies channeled the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys of the late 1980s and uglied up the game from the start.

Ja Morant (12) begins to hop up and dance late in the fourth quarter as the Golden State Warriors lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 106-101 in Game 2 of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Fedex Forum in Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

With 2:52 gone in the first quarter, Gary Payton II went up for a layup and Memphis guard Brooks clocked him across the head and sent him spinning to the ground, where he lay for several minutes. Replays of the foul had the Memphis crowd gasping at its severity.

Official Scott Foster quickly ruled a flagrant 2 and ejected Brooks from the game. Unlike Green’s foul two days before, there was no gray area on this decision.

“It was dirty,” Kerr said flatly.

Seconds later, Green also was lying face down as play continued after catching an inadvertent elbow to his face. The crowd rained boos upon him as he lay, and continued when he got up, his face bloodied, and headed to the locker room. On his way, Green flipped the crowd the double-bird.

“You’re going to boo someone who gets elbowed and has blood running down his face?” Green said after the game, with his eye almost swollen shut. “You should get flipped off. They’re going to be that nasty, I can be nasty, too.”

This series has gotten nasty. Three starters missing in the first three minutes of Game 2, one by ejection, two to injury. Minutes later, Stephen Curry had blood on his hand. Bodies hitting the floor. Players jawing.

The energy in the building was desperate, angry. Green was booed loudly during introductions and throughout the game.

“He loves playing the villain,” Kerr said earlier in the day.

Now there’s a villain on the other side, as Brooks will learn when he arrives at Chase Center. Which might not be for a while if Brooks earns a suspension from the league in addition to the ejection.

This has been a growing rivalry. Memphis has become a bad matchup for the Warriors and knocked them out of the play-in round a year ago. This season, the Grizzlies finished ahead of the Warriors, and you knew coming in, this series was going to be competitive, physical and full of trash-talk.

There has been yapping. Jaren Jackson Jr. reveled in a late-season win over the Warriors by tweeting out a photo of Kevon Looney being dunked on and the sarcastic caption, “Strength in numbers.” Brandon Clarke, the player fouled when Green was called for a flagrant 2 in Game 1, talked smack about Green after the game. The Grizzlies are full of swagger and think their time has come.

Jordan Poole (3) tussles for a loose ball with Jaren Jackson Jr. (13) In the first half as the Golden State Warriors played the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 2 of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Fedex Forum in Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Maybe it has. Ja Morant is a superstar, and his 47 points — 18 in the fourth quarter — on Tuesday night were more than what Klay Thompson and Curry had, combined. There is a vibe and energy about this team that is reminiscent of the early days of the Warriors’ dynasty.

But the Warriors aren’t ready to pass the baton. They’re competing with the youngsters with everything they have.

“It’s in our DNA. We know what to do,” Curry said. “A game like that, a possession here, a possession there, you feel like you should win that one. We’re ready to bounce back and make the necessary adjustments.”

After two games, with fouls and ejections, blood and boos, anger and emotion, this series is feistier than some might have predicted.

“That’s what the playoffs are like,” Curry said. “A lot of adversity, adrenaline and emotion and back and forth. Just got to win four games somehow.”

The loss of Payton is particularly wrenching because not only is he the Warriors’ best defender on Morant, but he has become a cherished member of the team. His teammates love his story, love his tenacity, and now Payton may be robbed of further experience in these playoffs, pending an MRI exam on his fractured elbow back in the Bay Area.

“This is a guy who’s been toiling the last six years, trying to make it in this league, and finally found a home,” Kerr said. “He’s just playing his butt off this year, he’s in the playoffs. This should be the time of his life.”

The game was another good one, and the Warriors kept it close, despite shooting 18.4% from 3-point range, having questionable shot selection and committing 18 turnovers. They leave Memphis with the needed split and know they will be back here for a Game 5 on Wednesday. This could be a long series.

No one should be surprised. The Grizzlies are a worthy opponent. And a nasty one, too.

Ann Killion is a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @annkillion

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