September 27, 2022

Ja Morant, Grizzlies punk Knicks at MSG; Julius Randle gets ejected

Ja Morant and the Grizzlies soar to victory over the Knicks at MSG on Wednesday. (Seth Wenig/AP)

For the visitors, it was a festive atmosphere postgame at MSG, where the Grizzlies ran around and through the Knicks, where Ja Morant completed one highlight dunk and tried another, and where Julius Randle again let his emotions get the best of him in the Bockers’ latest defeat.

“You like this right here? You’re going to be seeing this for a looooooong time,” Morant said with his arm draped around fellow young teammate Jaren Jackson Jr.

That’s a scary thought for the rest of the NBA and the Knicks, who were overmatched and outmuscled by the Grizzlies on Wednesday, 120-108.

Morant was the showstopper with 23 points and nine assists, but his three-point shot was off and he labeled the performance, “one of the worst games of my career.” That’s an exaggeration and no solace for the Knicks (24-28), who trailed for the final 42 minutes and by as many as 19 points.

Exactly a week earlier, ESPN pulled a Memphis game off its schedule to show the Knicks vs. Heat. Morant didn’t forget when asked about playing on national TV on Wednesday.

“Against the team they kicked us out for,” Morant said. “What happened? Who won?”

The Grizzlies physically punked the Knicks, beyond just using their speed advantage and using monster center Steven Adams to help grab 15 offensive boards.

Randle, who finished with 18 points and was one assist short of a triple-double, was ejected late after two technicals. His first infraction seemed to light a fire under the Grizzlies (36-18), who, at the time, were only leading by six midway through the fourth quarter.

Randle had wandered into Memphis’ huddle during a stop in play, which prompted Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane to intervene and shove Randle. Both were assessed technicals, and Bane buried a three-pointer on the next possession.

The Knicks never recovered. That six-point Knicks deficit turned to 11 in about one minute. Randle was assessed another tech for complaining to the officials with 31.5 seconds left and a defeat secured. It became the latest example of Randle losing his cool.

“You know us. You know how we play,” Jackson Jr. said about the Randle-Bane incident and ensuing trash talk. “We love that. It brings joy to us. That back-and-forth. That’s just what we like. So if you want to play that game, we can play that game.”

Added Morant, “Ain’t no running in the M [Memphis]. We climb up the chimney. … If you going to cry, what the babies gonna do?”

Earlier in the season after a defeat in Brooklyn, Tom Thibodeau fully defended Randle against the officiating. This time, the coach had no issues and Randle didn’t talk postgame.

“I didn’t have a problem with the officiating,” Thibodeau said. “We can’t look to the officials to bail us out. There’s a physicality to the game, then great, adjust to that.”

Evan Fournier (30 points) and Mitchell Robinson (14 points, 11 boards) contributed positively for the Knicks, but Kemba Walker’s descension continued with his second consecutive scoreless game.

The Knicks lost for the seventh time in their last nine games, with no respite in the schedule. They now start a five-game West Coast road trip against the Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Warriors and Blazers. Their remaining schedule is the second-most difficult in the NBA based on the opposition’s record.

But they entered Wednesday just ½ game behind the Hawks for the final play-in spot, and RJ Barrett chose to look on the bright side.

“Despite our record, we’re not out of it at all,” Barrett said. “Nine through 12 in the East is all close. We’re really right there, just need to string together some wins and that will help. It’s funny. It’s like you have one good week and you’re right back in it.”

Another silver lining is they don’t have to face Morant again until March.

“We’re watching something special,” Jackson Jr. said about Morant. “It’s nice to appreciate it sometimes. … He’s getting MVP chants on the road. It’s pure, man. I’m just glad I get a better seat than all y’all to see it.”