Ja Morant needed one of these, and it came at the exact time it was supposed to for a rising star of his projected caliber.
When he began hitting threes, you knew Morant was in a rhythm; but you wondered whether or not his hot streak would carry over into winning time against a motivated Steph Curry.
Morant scored 11 fourth-quarter points — a run that began with a 26-foot three-pointer as 8:51 remained on the game clock. And, in overtime, he asserted himself further, closing with four points within the final minute, including a floater off a spin move to seal the game with four seconds to go (against a good defender in Juan Toscano-Anderson, too). It ultimately lifted Memphis to a 117-112 win over the favored Golden State Warriors.
Precisely when his team needed him most, Morant came through with 35 points, six rebounds, six assists, and four steals. No other Grizzly had more than 14 points. Morant also shot 14-of-29 from the field and 5-for-10 from three, making more from long-range on this night than he had in any other prior. The 35 points would also tie his fourth-highest scoring total in any game. Morant put the team on his back, like we expect blossoming stars to do, and he did it in a playoff atmosphere to send Memphis into round one against the top-seeded Utah Jazz. This is Memphis’ first trip to the postseason since 2017, the last of the Grit-and-Grind era.
Curry, who had 39 points of his own, couldn’t (and he wouldn’t) even hate on the kid. He hopped on Instagram Live last night following the loss and commended the 2020 Rookie of the Year for his spotlighted showcase.
“He’s nice, bro,” Curry said of Morant while nodding into his camera phone as well over 40,000 people watched live. “Shoutout to Ja. Ja showed so much love … he just speaks the truth. I wish him all the best on Sunday, the playoff run, all that. The league is in good hands with him. Ja played his ass off tonight.”
It’s a common and near playoff tradition for the young upstart led by their current and future star to excitingly break into the postseason before losing in the first round. It’s an indication of their youth, but you always remember that they’re coming, like the Chicago Bulls of the mid-1980s, the Oklahoma City Thunder of 2010, and Dallas Mavericks of last season. So, coming to an NBA TV slate near you, Jazz vs. Grizzlies. A guy he’s facing, Donovan Mitchell, had his own star turn in the playoffs in 2018 as a rookie.
Meanwhile, Curry was on IG Live with Rwanda Patriots role man Jermaine Cole late last night, and so begins his Off-Season (no pun intended… ok, maybe).