Big fat dunks, pinpoint dimes, and the gumption to go at Kyrie Irving in a scoring duel and win? Ja Morant delivered on all those fronts Sunday as the Memphis Grizzlies took out the Brooklyn Nets, 134-133. Based on Morant’s 30-point, nine-assist romp, the No. 2 pick out of Murray State intends to remain one of the most telegenic players at this next level of basketball.
Given the learning curve of an NBA point guard and Morant’s somewhat suspect jump shot, it’s wild to see the 20-year-old come out and stage a scoring show like this in his third-ever NBA game. Morant kept the Grizzlies in contention by doling out 17 points in the fourth quarter, off looks like this hypnotizing scoop that nearly began at the free throw line:
Morant shot 13-of-22 on the night, and eight of those makes came at the rim, by way of shifty handles, the hops to finish over bigger defenders, and the body control to finish through them when necessary. “Sometimes I can be a little passive, I might have the shot and try to give it up,” Morant told The Athletic after the game. “Tonight I felt like the bigs were back, trying to bait me into coming towards them. I’m going to attack them every time.”
If he can continue to get to the rim that effectively even without a refined jumper, his whole game will open up ahead of schedule. Morant is the best passer in his draft class, and commanding that level of attention as a scorer will allow him to carve defenses up as a distributor. The extent to which he can keep defenders honest on the perimeter will probably dictate his early career. But in this game, even in the half-court, he just blew by anyone in his way.
Irving, meanwhile, was pouring in a game-high 37 points in his third consecutive solo recital for the 1-2 Nets. Morant kept pace on offense, and while defense won’t ever be the young guard’s calling, he locked down Irving on an isolation in the final play of regulation. Morant stayed grounded during the pump fake, which he knew was coming.
In the final play of overtime, Morant again made the wise play by dumping the ball off to Jae Crowder after drawing in two defenders.
Morant, audible and animated throughout the game, got chirpy after made buckets and could be seen jawing with Irving during the fourth quarter. “One time I joked with him the ref told me to tuck in my jersey and I told him I’m trying to be like untucked Kyrie,” Morant said. What’s clear, just a week into his professional career, is that Morant is capable of lighting up a quarter of basketball just like untucked Kyrie.