Memphis Grizzlies get tough in win over Knicks: 'We ain't ducking no smoke'

NEW YORK -- The Memphis Grizzlies aren't backing down from anyone. And given how their season is going, they have no reason to.

After their latest victory, a 120-108 triumph in which New York Knicks forward Julius Randle was ejected in the fourth quarter after multiple run-ins with Memphis guard Desmond Bane, Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant made it clear he and his teammates won't be changing their approach anytime soon.

"There ain't no running in the M, man," Morant said. "We climb up the chimney. We ain't ducking no smoke. We're gonna let everybody know we're here.

"We're gonna play hard. We're trying to get a win, and if you don't like it? Oh well."

The Grizzlies are fast becoming one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA, on and off the court. It took less than two minutes for Memphis to throw down its first alley-oop of the night, a massive slam by rookie Ziaire Williams -- the first two of his career-high 21 points -- off a pass from Morant.

It was one of several that Memphis (36-18) executed during the game, including a breathtaking one Morant finished late in the first half. And even on a night when Morant and Bane struggled, going a combined 13-for-45 from the field, the Grizzlies leaned on their defense to improve to 27-8 since beginning the season 9-10.

As they have often done this season, the Grizzlies followed their win with their own version of an open mic night during the postgame news conference. Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. took turns speaking their minds.

Jackson, like Morant, had plenty to say on the subject of trash talking.

"You know us," said Jackson, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds in the win. "You know how we play. We play with energy, we play with intensity. We love that. That brings joy to us, that back-and-forth. That's just what we like. So if you want to play that game, we'll play that game. It's cool. It's all in between the lines. We're competing for something huge.

"It's never personal. I don't care who I'm talking to. It's just a person right here, and I'm just going to say what I feel and I'm gonna do what I feel, too, and that's what they're gonna do, too. And we appreciate that. If you bring it and we're on that, that's cool."

Morant took his turn at the microphone, pulling it in closer to make sure the world heard his proclamation that Jackson should be the Defensive Player of the Year.

"Make sure you hear me loud and clear right now," said Morant, who also said Bane should be this year's Most Improved Player. "[The] Defensive Player of the Year is sitting to the left of me right now. We was on ESPN tonight -- I hope you're all watching this interview and actually giving my dog some credit, some recognition for how he's playing on the defensive end, as well as on the offensive end. I feel like there's not too many bigs in the league who can do both as good as he's doing, so there y'all go.

"Look who he's guarding. He's having different matchups. He had Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. He had [Nikola] Jokic. Tonight he had Julius Randle. He's able to guard guards out on the perimeter. And they're not scoring. So I think that's pretty much what it is."

When a reporter began a question by mentioning the Grizzlies-Knicks game was on ESPN on Wednesday night, Morant interjected, reminding him that Memphis' game was bumped off the network last week in favor of the Knicks playing the Miami Heat.

"With the team they kicked us off for [last week]?" Morant said. "What happened? Who won?"

It's that kind of swagger -- or, as Morant said to ESPN's Tim MacMahon, that "drippy" culture -- that has powered the Grizzlies up the Western Conference standings with a roster that ranks among the league's youngest.

The Grizzlies also have the kind of depth that allows them to absorb one of the worst performances of Morant's career on Wednesday night.

"Tonight, I felt like I played terrible," said Morant, who made his first All-Star Game last week when he was voted in as a starter. "If you ask me, this was one of the worst games I've played in my career, but my teammates were out there and still distributing the ball and making shots and they were like, all right."

Morant and Jackson also said it was important for the Grizzlies to bounce back from Monday's overtime loss in Philadelphia to the 76ers and win against the Knicks, who repeatedly cut into the lead Memphis built in the first half but could never complete the comeback.

Morant, in particular, said it was a sign of the growth the young Grizzlies have shown since their slow start to the season.

But it also is a sign of Morant's leadership and ability to lead Memphis' rapid transformation into one of the league's elite teams.

Jackson said it has been an honor to watch it up close over the past few seasons.

"You know him," Jackson said. "You know how humble he is. Come on, man. For us ... we're watching something special. It's nice to appreciate it at times. The reason why he's special is because he don't really need to take the time to reflect on everything. He's going to keep moving, keep doing what got him to this point, which is the work he put in. At the end of the day, we're sitting here getting MVP chants on the road, and we're sitting there like, bruh, yeah ... it's pure. It's some pure stuff going on.

"I'm just glad I get a better seat than all y'all to see it."