Morant scores 38 in return as streaking Grizzlies top Spurs
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Ja Morant scored 38 points, Jaren Jackson added 21 points and 12 rebounds, and the Memphis Grizzlies hung on to beat the San Antonio Spurs 135-129 Wednesday night for their season-high eighth straight victory.
Morant, who missed the previous two games with right thigh soreness, was 14 of 25 from the field, including 3 for 5 from outside the arc. He also had a right-handed hammer dunk over Spurs center Jakob Poeltl with 3:35 left to help preserve the Memphis lead.
“He was huge for us,” coach Taylor Jenkins said, adding that Morant had “a pop to him” from the rest. “When he gets to his spots, and he plays at that level, it’s really important to us.”
Desmond Bane finished with 18 points and Tyus Jones added 16 for the Grizzlies.
Morant had averaged 38.8 points over his previous four games against the Spurs.
“It’s just pretty much me getting to my spots on the floor,” he said. “I feel like that’s pretty much it. Obviously, the shooting around me helps a lot.”
Keldon Johnson, who missed the past two games with left hamstring tightness, led the Spurs with 24 points. Tre Jones had 22 points and six assists, while Poeltl added 17 points, 13 rebounds and a season-high five blocks.
Memphis, up 14 at halftime, maintained the lead through the third quarter before consecutive 3-pointers from Josh Richardson (12 points) early in the fourth helped get the Spurs within single digits. San Antonio trailed 130-127 after a floater by Richardson with 2:42 left, but the Grizzlies closed it out.
The late rally was indicative of what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has seen from his team, an attitude of playing hard even when the deficit reaches double digits.
“They never quit,” Popovich said. “That’s a tribute to their character. You can’t coach that. I was really proud of them.”
Spurs: Doug McDermott was 4 of 4 in the first half, including a pair of 3s. He finished with 15 points … Poeltl blocked four shots in the first quarter.
Grizzlies: Dillon Brooks passed O.J. Mayo for 10th place on the franchise scoring list. Mayo had 4,584 points. … The 76 first-half points matched a season high for Memphis. … Jackson’s 12 rebounds matched his career high.
JA GIVES AFTER THIEVES TAKE AWAY
At Monday’s game against the Spurs, 11-year-old Grizzlies fan Ellie Hughes had an autographed ball stolen by two people as she tried to get Morant’s attention to sign it. Hughes, of Forrest City, Arkansas, had collected players’ signatures on the ball for the past six years. Hearing of her plight through social media, Morant reached out to her family, invited her to the game and then gave her his game-worn jersey and his Ja 1 Nike shoes, which haven’t been released to the public yet.
“It’s something I pretty much love to do,” Morant said of the gesture. “You touch somebody’s heart like that. A big fan of the Grizzlies for years. It’s moments like that that mean the most to them. Something they will never forget.”
Morant didn’t play Monday in the opener of the two-game series, and it’s hard to believe Popovich would relish facing a player who came in averaging 27.8 points in 11 career games against San Antonio. But he was looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s good for our guys to go against that sort of thing,” the veteran coach said. “Every time he plays, he brings it. So, I’m looking forward to it. One of my coaches is going to try and get his autograph.”
Spurs: Host the Golden State Warriors on Friday in the Alamodome.
Grizzlies: Travel to Indianapolis to face the Pacers on Saturday.
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