When the Memphis Grizzlies last appeared in the Western Conference Finals, back in May 2013, Ja Morant had just become a teenager. But the team has a legitimate chance of returning to the playoff round later this month -- and with the 22-year-old phenom embracing the spotlight and championship pressure.
Morant, who received the NBA's Most Improved Player award, has resembled an MVP-caliber talent this spring. In the Grizzlies' 106-101 win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of their semifinal series on Tuesday, Morant recorded 47 points with eight assists and rebounds, and did so with blurred vision in his left eye. Morant has captivated fans across the league, and NBA on TNT voice Ian Eagle realized that "Ja-breaker" was a fitting call for highlight reels.
"You have a lot of things going on in your brain when you sit down to do these games, and you play out the scenarios that could happen," Eagle explained to The DA Show on Thursday. "So when you prepare, you prepare for everything. That's not to say that it was ready to go, or it was going to click in a moment's notice. It just happened to hit me, in that moment, that it was pretty special. It was something that'd been marinating in my brain for the last couple of years.
"Timing, more than anything else... Just felt completely appropriate and came out of my mouth at the right time... When you start doing work for the games, that's part of the deal. You've got to nail the moments -- the rudimentary part of the game is, you've got to be on top of what's happening in front of you... Doing these games for 28 years, you find a rhythm and recognize that those special moments only happen every so often."
Although the Warriors finished the regular season ranked second in the NBA in defensive rating and third in points allowed, they simply had no answer for Morant in crunchtime. According to ESPN Stats, he scored 15 of the Grizzlies' 17 points in clutch time, which comes in the last five minutes of a game within five points. Morant also became just the third player in NBA history to record multiple 45-point games in the playoffs before turning 23.
Memphis, which earned the West's second seed with a 56-26 overall record, will play Game 3 against Golden State on Saturday night at Chase Center, with tip-off scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET. According to FiveThirtyEight's projections, the Grizzlies currently have a 41-percent chance to reach the West Finals and just an 11-percent chance to make their first NBA Finals in franchise history.
The entire NBA playoffs conversation between Eagle and DA can be accessed in the audio player above.