Sunday night belonged to the most electrifying man in Memphis, Ja Morant. The Grizzlies rookie point guard made his mark, as he went toe-to-toe with one of the league’s best players, Kyrie Irving.
With only 3.7 seconds left in OT, Morant delivered a dime to a trailing Jae Crowder, who hit a game-winning three-pointer as time expired to seal the victory before 15,517 delighted fans at the FedExForum. Memphis beat Brooklyn 134–133.
“It was a great play call by coach,” said Morant on the game winning dish to Crowder. “I’m not going to lie. At first, when I went behind the back, I was just trying to get my feet set. But then Jae called ‘Trailer!’ and I knew that both defenders were on me, so I just pitched it back and backed into the other defenders so they wouldn’t be able to contest his shot. I believed in Jae the whole way and he delivered for us tonight.”
This marked the first win of the 2019 season for the Grizzlies and the first win for rookie head coach Taylor Jenkins.
In his third NBA game, the rookie point guard tallied 30 points (career-high), nine assists, and four rebounds in 32 minutes. The Murray State alum became only the third player in NBA history to score at least 30 points and have at least nine assists within the first three games of their career, joining Isiah Thomas (1981) and Trae Young (2018).
He had 17 points in the fourth quarter, while leading the Grizzlies back from a 118-110 deficit with 3:20 remaining. Also Morant had a key block on Irving to send the game to overtime.
Morant on the final sequence of the fourth quarter, “On that last play, coach was just telling us to stay down, and once he pump faked it, I was down and I knew the shot was coming,” Morant said. “Man, it was great. Special talent — he’s [Irving] a handful; I can say that. Definitely was putting pressure on our defense tonight.”
After the game, Morant said it felt great to get the win in front of the rousing home crowd after coming up short the first two games.
Jenkins was glad to get his first win and was very proud of his rookie. Jenkins said, “We’ve said to him daily that he’s our engine. We go as he goes. I think he’s starting to see how defenses are going to guard him. He’s got to be full throttle early on. Credit to him, the last couple of days watching film and in his individual work, working on different finishes.”
Jenkins added, “To see him finish at a pretty high level tonight, to be able to complete those attacks is huge. To be able to find his teammates in great times, getting in there and kicking out, it was great to see. That was a great Ja Morant performance. A lot of guys played great tonight. Hopefully we continue building on this moving forward.”
“Obviously, he’s a very talented player. He hit some tough shots and his quickness and speed to the rim to get downhill,” said Brooklyn Head coach Kenny Atkinson about Morant.
Irving also had high praises for Morant: “I expected him to come out aggressive, be who he is. He got downhill a few times and finished over our bigs. Didn’t really hit the outside shot tonight, which we wanted to encourage, but he did pretty great at what he is known for and that is getting in the paint and playing with a lot of passion, and I think he showed that tonight.”
Nets guard Caris LeVert said Morant made good decisions and said he thought Morant was going to be really good in the league.
The Grizzlies converted on a season-high 14 three-pointers and shot 48.5 percent from the field.
Jonas Valanciunas recorded his second double-double of the season, tallying 16 points and 11 rebounds in just 20 minutes of play. Dillon Brooks had a strong night as he went 9-of-15 while shooting 3-of-6 from three. Brooks ended with 21 points.
Solomon Hill saw his first action in a Grizzlies uniform. Hill went a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
Irving led all scorers with 37 points, seven assists and seven rebounds while shooting 11-of-27 from the floor. Caris LeVert also had a good night for the Nets as he tallied 27 points, five assists and four rebounds as the Nets fell to 1-2 on the year.
What They Said
Grizzlies forward Jae Crowder ended the night with six points, seven rebounds and five assists. All of Crowder points came in OT and including the game winner.
On the win:
“Obviously, just to get the win, get our first win and try to get some momentum. We’ve been playing well these first two games and we put five quarters together and came out with a win.”
On keeping an even keel in the fourth quarter:
“We just wanted to stay with the game plan and obviously we felt like we took our foot off the gas pedal the other two games and we wanted to try and finish a full game with some veteran presence down late and it helped out. We just played very scrappy on the defensive end, coming up with loose balls. They had a five out there. We had four smalls I think at one point so we’re just playing scrappy and doing whatever it takes to win the game.”
On what he tells the young players:
“We want to limit those guys to one shot where, like I said, we were playing small in the clutch so we didn’t want to give any second chance points. I think all game we were getting beat with second chance points, so there late we just wanted to limit those guys to one shot, make or miss, and get out and have a good offense on the other end and find the best shot we can get. So I think we limited those guys. I think they got a tip-in late which we tried to not give up, but we did a good job of limiting those guys to one shot.”
On the locker room celebration:
“We’re coming together. I think that’s what it’s about. It’s about coming together as a team. Coming together as one. And obviously a win always brings a team a little closer and to get that first win for coach speaks volumes for him. We’re just happy for him. Happy for our rooks, they played a great game and we’re just trying to get a win and get some momentum here early in the season.”
On Ja Morant:
“He stepped up especially in that to force overtime. That defensive stop that he had on Kyrie [Irving], stayed down on the pump fake, contested it, got a piece of the ball. That was big. That was probably my highlight for him of the game along with the points. He did a good job of scoring and facilitating but that defensive stop to push it to overtime was huge.”
The Grizzlies head out to take on Anthony Davis, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, with a 9:30 p.m. start, Central time.