A "Bunch of Hoopers" Defeat the Suns on MLK Day




There’s gonna be no tanking this season, said Grizzlies star guard Ja Morant, after the team secured its fifth straight victory — against the Phoenix Suns, 108–104 — before a national audience during the 19th Annual MLK Day Celebration Game. 

“We had a slow start, and people were saying that we needed to tank,” Morant said after the win. “That is never on our minds. We want to go out and win. Once again, coach is preaching that 'next man up' and to be ready. I feel like we all embrace adversity. We know we have to do even more when adversity hits. I feel like we love that.”

Morant garnered his first double-double of the season in his second game back from injury with 17 points and 10 assists.

Brandon Clarke finished with 17 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in 35 minutes. Clarke praised Mr. Fourth Quarter after the game.

He said, “Ja (Morant) has a crazy good feel for the game. I feel like those first three quarters. He’s just kind of like watching the defense, watching us  —  seeing what the defense gives him. And I think by the fourth quarter, he's just kind of already figured out everything, and he’s able to get in the paint, get his shots off, and get his teammates shots. I feel like he’s a really, really bright player and that he’s able to read the game and then by the fourth quarter. It’s pretty much over.”

During his post-game walk-off interview, Grayson Allen said the team has a "bunch of hoopers." The Duke alum hit clutch free throws down the stretch to help his team get the win. Allen led the bench with 16 points and six rebounds. The Grizzlies' reserves outscored Phoenix 49-31. Memphis bench currently ranks seventh in the NBA in bench points per game at 38.5. 


With 1:06 to play, Morant found Allen in the corner for a go-ahead 3-pointer to give the Grizzlies a 101-98 lead.

It wasn’t pretty, but Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins will take this win. He said, “Tonight, it was struggling. We just had to continue to find ways just to breakthrough. As I said a moment ago, just great execution down the stretch, but you need that on both ends. You need your defense to be there for 48 minutes every single night. That’s what we’ve had. Our offense will get there. We’re seeing a lot of different things thrown at us that are really testing, I guess, and really helping us grow, and we’ll be better for it.”

Jenkins added: “Down the stretch, I just decided that I’m going to put as many playmakers out there: Ja (Morant), Tyus (Jones), (Kyle Anderson). They were able to load up on Ja a lot, at times throughout the game, so I just wanted to see if we could maybe release pressure and get a couple of extra ball-handlers out there, decision-makers, and I’m just proud of the effort that those guys gave late in the game. I’ve told them two games in a row now; it comes down to the last couple of possessions in the fourth quarter.”

Rookie Xavier Tillman garnered his first career start on Monday night in the absence of big man Jonas Valanciunas, who sat out due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He posted 12 points and six rebounds on 5-8 shooting. Tillman said he and his wife were in the car geeked and screaming when he learned he was starting. 

After the game, during the Zoom conference, I asked Tillman about what he was thinking during his free throws at the end of the game. He said gleefully, “’Give me one.’ We were up three with one second left. I said, just give me one and close it out, so we don’t have to get the stop. That was the biggest thing.”

Ja Morant was proud of the rookie for his first career start. “I was very excited for him,” Morant explained. “Being a rookie, he has been playing really well. When he first came in and found out he was starting, I said congrats on your first start; now let’s go get the win. He is playing big-time for us. He has guarded multiple positions, knocking down the three, playing in the mid-range, rebounding; he is doing a lot for us on the floor. That is just a lot of credit to his work.”

The Grizzlies are now one game above .500 this season (7–6) after going 2–6 early.

Up Next

The Grizzlies travel to Portland for a two-game series against the Trail Blazers, starting on Wednesday at 9 pm CT. 

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