By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
Memphis’ chances of staving off elimination are even tougher now.
The Golden State Warriors put the Grizzlies on the brink of the offseason after they rallied late in Game 4 on Monday night to grab a 3-1 series lead as Memphis star Ja Morant sat out with a sore right knee.
Morant is doubtful for the remainder of the postseason after an MRI and further evaluation revealed a bone bruise on his injured knee, the team announced Tuesday night. The NBA’s Most Improved Player winner and All-Star guard had been averaging 38.3 points a game.
The Warriors now head to Memphis needing one victory to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2019 — when they lost in the NBA Finals before missing the last two postseasons.
That’s been a long wait for a franchise that won three championships in the last decade.
“Wednesday is going to be the hardest one yet,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “It always is, the closeout. We have to put this behind us and put together a good game plan.”
Even without Morant, Memphis still led for all but 45.7 seconds of Game 4 before Golden State rallied for a 101-98 victory. It was the first time Memphis had been held under 100 points this postseason.
“We’re back home,” Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said. “We’ve got our fans. It’s going to be loud, so we’re excited to get back home and go play again, man. We have another chance to play. They’re a good team. We obviously know how the game went. Yeah, we get another chance at it.”
And that “it” is pushing this series back to San Francisco for Game 6 on Friday.
In the Bucks-Celtics series, Boston’s Al Horford has tapped into a level of his game during the playoffs that many thought he’d lost at age 35.
His play reached a new height in Game 4 during the Celtics’ 116-108 win over the Bucks on Monday night. The five-time All-Star scored 16 of his playoff career-high 30 points in the fourth quarter to help Boston tie the Eastern Conference semifinal series with the defending NBA champions at two games apiece.
Equally important, the Celtics have reclaimed home-court advantage as the series shifts back to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday.
After spending a challenging season in Oklahoma City last year, Horford was packaged in the Thunder’s trade for Kemba Walker, returning Horford to where he last earned All-Star honors in the 2017-18 season.
Horford said he feels like he’s experiencing the fruits of an offseason in which he focused on being ready to play meaningful games again. He has gone from averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds during the regular season to 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds in the postseason.
“That’s from sitting at home,” Horford said. “That’s from watching the playoffs, not knowing what my future was holding and really just hoping to have an opportunity to be in this type of environment.”
The resurgence has coincided with Boston needing someone to step up after big man Robert Williams III was sidelined for the second time this postseason, sitting out Game 4 with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee. He is questionable for Game 5.
After missing an opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead, Bucks guard Wesley Matthews said there’s no time to sulk.
“If it was easy to get to the semis, every team would get to the semis. It’s hard. It’s hard as hell,” he said. “At the same time, you can’t hold your head too high, can’t hold your head low at all, and you’ve got to bounce back.”
BUCKS AT CELTICS
Series tied 2-2. Game 5, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: After dropping the series opener at home, Boston is back at TD Garden with a chance to put the defending champion Bucks on the brink of elimination. The Celtics are 3-1 at home this postseason and continue to find ways to frustrate Giannis Antetokounmpo late in games.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Milwaukee in the fourth quarter. The Bucks were outscored in the final 12 minutes in three of the four games, including 43-28 in Game 4. The only time it didn’t cost them was their 103-101 win in Game 3.
— INJURY WATCH: The Celtics said Williams is questionable with left knee soreness … Bucks forward Khris Middleton (sprained left knee) remains out. George Hill (abdominal soreness) is listed as probable.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Bucks. With no reinforcements coming in the form of Middleton returning, Antetokounmpo will need the best from his remaining supporting cast to avoid going down 3-2.
WARRIORS AT GRIZZLIES
Series tied 3-1. Game 5, 9:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: Golden State is 43-24 all-time in series-clinching games and 19-8 since 2015. The Warriors also are 12-3 since 2015 in Game 5s. The Grizzlies are 3-11 when facing elimination.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Jordan Poole. Dillon Brooks heard boos from Warriors fans in Game 4 after returning from a one-game suspension for his flagrant foul that sidelined Gary Payton II with a broken left elbow. Now Poole figures to be the target of Grizzlies fans after his involvement in the play that sent Morant to the sidelines.
— INJURY WATCH: Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who missed Game 4 after testing positive for COVID-19 and being placed in the league’s health and safety protocols, will remain out for Game 5. Associate head coach Mike Brown will again coach in his place. … With Morant out, Tyus Jones (19 points, six rebounds, five assists in Game 4) is expected to start again.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Brooks. He is just 8 of 35 from the floor and 4 of 18 from 3-point range in this series, with questionable shot selection. He missed a 26-footer that could’ve padded Memphis’ lead in the final minute, possibly helping the Grizzlies pull out a gritty win.
AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley, Teresa M. Walker, Steve Megargee and AP freelance writer Jim Hoehn contributed to this report.
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