MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Calling the NBA’s all-time leading scorer — regular season and playoffs — old and just another player might not seem very smart to most folks.
For Dillon Brooks, that’s just the Grizzlies’ defender trying to get under LeBron James’ skin.
Brooks is one of the NBA’s best defenders. He started off the mind games before their first-round Western Conference series was locked in, saying he wanted to face James and the Lakers.
And Brooks didn’t hold back after his Grizzlies tied this series at 1-1 without Ja Morant. Brooks called James a legend yes, but “old” at 38. He added James isn’t the player who won titles in Miami and Cleveland. Brooks, 27, is in the final year of his contract.
“I’m creating a name for myself,” Brooks said Wednesday night after a 103-93 win over the Lakers.
This is nothing new for Brooks, often called Dillon the Villain in Memphis. He embraces the heel role in a town where wrestling and trash talk is a way to make a good living. It might seem a bit different for someone born in Mississauga, Ont. — so much for the polite Canadian stereotype.
But the 6-foot-6 Brooks played high school ball in Nevada and was the 45th pick overall out of Oregon in 2017. He was acquired by Memphis from Houston in a draft-night trade.
He’s followed in the Memphis tradition of former elite NBA defender Tony Allen during the Grizzlies’ franchise-record streak of seven straight playoff berths. He has started 318 of 345 games played in his career.
And Brooks has taken on the NBA’s best from Kevin Durant to Donovan Mitchell to Stephen Curry — backing down from no one.
That’s why James, who spoke to reporters Wednesday night before Brooks called him a “legend” and “old,” said before the series started the Lakers couldn’t overlook someone who can get hot as a shooter, too. Brooks has a career-high 37 points and had 32 on Dec. 17 against Oklahoma City.
Brooks excels on defence. This season, he held opponents a full three per cent under their usual field-goal percentage. That’s the NBA’s best mark among guards and wing players.
He’s at his best against the NBA’s best. Brooks had the league’s second-most matchups defensively against All-Stars and led the league by holding those All-Stars to 32.9 per cent shooting.
That feisty attitude has come with a literal price.
Brooks was fined US$35,000 for shoving a camera person on the sideline while chasing a loose ball in Miami in March, which he apologized for later. He was suspended a game in February for hitting Mitchell in the groin in February, costing him US$78,621 in pay according to Spotrac.com.
Golden State fans remain angry that Brooks only got a one-game suspension during the Western Conference semifinals last post-season when Gary Payton II broke his left elbow on a Flagrant 2 foul by Brooks that also got him ejected.
Brooks said James called him “dumb” when he picked up his fourth foul. Brooks took that as a win.
“I was expecting him to do that Game 4, Game 5,” Brooks said.
Both the Grizzlies and Lakers were unavailable Thursday, travelling to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Saturday night. Brooks made it clear that he enjoys poking “bears,” respecting no one until someone scores 40 against him. James scored his most points, with 28 in Game 2 in this series.
So challenge accepted for Brooks, who noted James went at him 1-on-1 and then subbed out.
“If It’s LeBron, if it’s AD (Anthony Davis), if it’s whoever, I play my heart out, so he knows that,” Brooks said. “I think most of the NBA knows that and I know my guys know.”
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press