LOS ANGELES – Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks “punched” LeBron James one too many times.
Brooks was ejected from Game 3 against the Lakers after hitting James in the groin with 11:43 left in the third quarter, and LA won comfortably 111–101.
Za Morant dazzled in his return from a right hand injury with 45 points and 13 assists and scored 22 consecutive points for the Grizzlies in the fourth quarter.
But this game was never close, and neither Brooks nor his teammates could back up his talk from earlier in the week, and the Lakers now lead this best-of-seven first-round series 2-1. Game 4 is in Los Angeles on Monday at 10pm ET.
The enigmatic Brooks sparked controversy this week for calling James “old” and deflected it by saying, “I punch bears.”
James was solid in response — 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists — but not quite as dominant. He doesn’t need to be. The Lakers tied an NBA record for the largest advantage in playoff history when they led the Grizzlies 35-9 at the end of the first quarter.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve never made a statement,” said James, who for the second day in a row declined to engage in questions about Brooks. “We had a chance to come home and play well on our home floor and we did that. No statement was made.
Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 31 points and 17 boards, and D’Angelo Russell had 17 points and seven assists.
Brooks did little to back up his trash talk from earlier in the week and left the court in embarrassment. He was thrown from the game after the officials reviewed the play and assessed a flagrant 2 foul – an automatic ejection.
Brooks appeared to intentionally hit James while he was dribbling down the court, though his teammates argued that he was going for a steal as LeBron dribbled behind his back. James went to court and stayed down for a few minutes.
“Flagrant 1, okay, but an ejection? I don’t agree with that at all,” Morant said.
The score was 54-40 at the time of the incident. Brooks declined an interview request Athletic, finishing with seven points on 3-of-13 shooting. He was greeted by boos and “Brooks, you suck” chants from the Lakers faithful.
The Grizzlies’ nine points were the fewest total in any quarter by any team this season. They shot 3-for-25. With 1:24 left in the fourth quarter, the closest Memphis got since the opening minutes of the game was nine points.
“Yeah, I mean, pretty bad,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We can’t go down by 26. … I hope our guys learn from this. There are no excuses. When you come here on the road … we know what we’re going through and we’ve got to play better.
Morant was 13-of-26 from the field, 12-of-13 at the line, and missed a triple-double by one rebound. His right hand — which kept him out of Game 2 — was bandaged. He only dipped once with two hands, but no other problems. His teammates can’t say the same.
“I felt great,” Morant said. “In that fourth quarter, I was just trying to win the game. I was looking at it well, making shots and not getting over the hump.
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)