Morant's Career Night Not Enough to Stop Spurs

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The San Antonio Spurs won the Grizzlies' season-opener (131–119) Wednesday, but the game belonged to Ja Morant, who had a career night. 

Morant scored 34 of his career-high 44 points (18-of-27) in the second half. The reigning NBA rookie of the year imposed his will by attacking the basket, and the Spurs had no answer for him. Morant also finished with nine assists and two steals. 

The stats didn’t mean anything to Morant. “I’m not happy at all,” Morant said after the loss. “Obviously, I wanted to win that game. We came up short  —  learning from this game and preparing for the next. For my play, I did alright.”

The 21-year-old was aggressive and kept his team in the game. “That’s just my mindset for the season,” said Morant. “I got tired of my teammates and coaches saying I have to be aggressive at all times last year, so that’s my mindset now. Just be aggressive and try to get something good out of each possession.”

Even though his team fell short of a victory in its opener, Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins had something to be proud of. Jenkins told the media during the post-game Zoom call, “I thought Ja was special tonight. His stat line, obviously, amazing. I thought his aggressive mentality was great.”

Jenkins went on to say, “The Spurs were throwing a lot of physicality on our entire roster, but I thought he [Morant] did a great job of handling it and finding a way to get into the paint, create for others with nine assists and one turnover, got to the foul line a number of times. He led a big charge, and we need to lean on him to keep this game somewhat competitive. Just didn’t get the results tonight. He had a heck of a game.”



Regarding one of the more amazing plays of the night, the Murray State alum described what happened when he threw an alley-oop to himself off the backboard: “I think we got a steal  and  B.C. [Brandon Clarke] was pushing the left-wing,” Morant said. “I was running down the middle of the floor. He kicked it to me, and we were pushing the break together. He was like, ‘I’m running with you.’ I saw DeMar [DeRozan] trying to play both. My mind actually was to throw B.C. an alley, and DeMar played the alley from B.C. and off the glass to myself was the only choice I had, so that’s what I did.”


Here’s the play:


Dillon Brooks (16 points, and six assists) fouled out after playing 33 minutes, but he was impressed by his teammate's performance. "He is getting to his spots, finishing, and finding guys.” 

However, Brooks was not pleased with the team’s performance. “Obviously, we are going to rely on him, but we got to find other guys to step up. I got to knock down some shots and guard the ball a lot better, because I’m going to be guarding the best players on each team.”

Brooks continued, “The Spurs’ starting lineup has three guys that scored 20 points, and the other guys had 16 points (each). That’s unacceptable. We have to guard the ball better and take on the challenge. I feel like they took the challenge to us with their physicality. They were blowing up screens. We have to do that more. That’s what we were taught, and we laid down a little bit, but that’s a good start.”

NOTES:

Memphis fell to 5-21 all-time in regular-season openers and 3-4 in their last seven. The team is now 9-17 in regular-season home openers, despite winning six of its last nine openers in FedExForum.


Morant is one of six players in NBA history to score 40+ points in the 1st game of his 2nd season. He joins Elgin Baylor (52 in 1959), Wilt Chamberlain (42 in 1960), Walt Bellamy (43 in 1962), Rick Barry (41 in 1966), and Shaquille O'Neal (42 in 1993).

UP NEXT

The Grizzlies will host the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, December 26th, in a matinee before heading out on its first road trip of the season.

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