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Dillon Brooks Was Humiliating Himself Well Before He Made Contact With The Balls

Dillon Brooks, the designated goon of the Memphis Grizzlies, whacked LeBron James in the giblets Saturday night, about 17 seconds into the second half of what wound up being a very comfortable wire-to-wire win for the lower-seeded Lakers. Brooks makes his living as a brawler, provocateur, and cheap-shot artist, but here he forgot the overriding lesson of the 2023 NBA playoffs: One must not make contact with the balls. To poke a bear is fair; to poke the nads, egads!

This was actually Brooks's second groin-related flagrant 2 foul of this season: Back in February, he threw a backhand fist directly into the dick and balls of Donovan Mitchell of the Cleveland Cavaliers, sparking an on-court altercation and earning an ejection. Saturday night's junk-punch was somewhat more plausible as a pure basketball play, so long as you accept that Brooks thought he had a realistic shot at getting a hand on the basketball by reaching between James's legs. "I mean, if you look at the play," says teammate Ja Morant, with a perfectly straight face, "he was actually reaching for the ball and the crossover. LeBron just went behind the back."

Brooks declined to defend this crotch-punch after the game, telling ESPN's Tim McMahon only, "I ain't talking." Not talking seems like a wise new direction for Brooks: He talked an awful lot after Memphis's Game 2 victory, calling LeBron "old" and explaining, "I poke bears" and "I don't respect no one until they come and give me 40." The advisability of poking bears, just as a general practice, isn't really up for discussion, but there are a few things you do not want to do after boasting about serial bear-poking, when the "bear" happens to be the greatest basketball player of a generation: The first is to clam up like a kid getting dressed down by a teacher when the bear comes over to talk to you pregame; the second is to score just seven points on 13 shots as your team sinks into a 29-point first-half hole from which it will never recover; and the third is to commit so literally to the bear-poking lifestyle that Marc Davis ejects you from the basketball game.

There have already been an alarming number of strikes aimed at opponents' tender parts across the early rounds of these playoffs. James Harden's delicate forearm to the beef and beans of Brooklyn's Royce O'Neale is probably the closest comparison to Brooks's lunging lefty jab, in the sense that both are at least thinly defensible as basketball plays. Harden—who really did seem to be using his off arm to create a little space, without any intention of smashing anyone's jewels—was ejected but not suspended, whereas Brooks was docked a game for the non-basketball retaliatory strike to Mitchell's hog region during the regular season. The league can abide the odd wang assault, but what it cannot stand is an extracurricular one. The league will review Brooks's foul, as it does with all flagrant fouls, but unless they apply the "repeat offender" standard used in the case of Draymond Green, who was suspended for a non-basketball non-balls strike on Domantas Sabonis, Brooks will probably avoid a suspension.

The Grizzlies can't afford to lose a starter to an ejection, let alone to an additional suspension, down 2–1 in the series and with real basketball issues to sort out going forward. They've assigned their two best defenders—Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr.—to James and Anthony Davis, respectively, but to uneven results. To Brooks's credit, James has for the most part been forced into playmaker mode; LeBron is one of the best playmakers in the history of the sport, but any opponent would rather have him setting screens and swinging the ball from 29 feet than rampaging through the paint. Davis, meanwhile, had his best game of the series Saturday night, posting 31 points and 17 rebounds against the freshly minted Defensive Player of the Year. But the calculated risk of tilting the defense away from Los Angeles's secondary scorers is repeatedly backfiring, as D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, and Rui Hachimura take turns looking like stars against Memphis's weaker defenders. And Memphis's suspect half-court offense is looking increasingly ragged—the Grizzlies scored just nine points in the first quarter Saturday night, a season-low for any NBA team.

Memphis is already down two rotation players to injury, and Ja Morant is playing with a hurt wrist after a nasty spill in the Grizzlies' Game 1 loss. The last thing they need is for one of their key guys to get bounced from a game for clubbing an opponent's dick and balls 70 feet from the basket. There's the metaphorical poking of the bear, which risks getting mauled by a bear, to an uncertain benefit. And then there's literally poking the freaking bear, which is not allowed in these premises!

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