Ja Morant returns from 25-game suspension and clinches win for Grizzlieson Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans as he returns to the starting lineup.
He's fired up. He's been putting a lot of work since the start of the season, been around the team as much as he could. Now he gets this opportunity here at Game 26. Super excited to see him go out there and just have fun. That's what he and I have talked about. It's putting a lot of work, go out there, have fun, build chemistry with your teammates and just enjoy this opportunity to be back on the floor.- Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins
During Ja Morant's 25-game suspension, the Memphis Grizzlies struggled, posting a 6-19 record. NBA commissioner Adam Silver imposed the suspension after Morant displayed a firearm in an Instagram Live video in May, just two weeks after the Grizzlies were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Notably, Morant had already served an eight-game suspension last season for a similar incident in March.
Last season, Morant returned as a bench player following his suspension, but this time, the circumstances were different. The Grizzlies managed a 6-3 record in the games Morant missed, with fill-in starting point guard Tyus Jones delivering solid performances.
However, Jones was traded to the Washington Wizards in the offseason as part of a three-team deal that brought guard Marcus Smart to Memphis. Unfortunately, Smart has been sidelined since November 14 with a sprained left foot.
Derrick Rose, another veteran point guard acquired during the offseason, is also unavailable on Tuesday night due to a hamstring strain. Jacob Gilyard, on a two-way contract, has started eight games in Morant's absence, including Monday night's decisive loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Grizzlies, currently boasting the league's last-ranked offense, averaged 105.9 points per 100 possessions without Morant. Last season, Morant led Memphis with an impressive 26.2 points and 8.1 assists per game.
"I just want him to play the standard that we've been talking about," said Jenkins, who mentioned he would be "mindful" of Morant's minutes total. "I told him, I told the team, I want him to lean into his teammates and understand how he can help them and how they can help him as well. Go out there and be a leader for us on the offensive side of the floor."
In his belated season debut, Memphis Grizzlies standout Ja Morant found himself battling fatigue with just 9.6 seconds left on the clock. Morant had spearheaded his team's comeback, erasing a daunting 24-point deficit to level the score against the New Orleans Pelicans. During a crucial timeout, Morant, who was tending to his calves with a massage gun due to impending cramps, proposed a play: a post-up for power forward Jaren Jackson Jr.
However, sensing the momentum and having witnessed Morant's clutch performance in the closing moments, Grizzlies shooting guard Desmond Bane promptly dismissed that strategy.
Official logo of the Memphis Grizzlies
"He told me, 'Fucking no, you get the ball,'" Morant said after the Grizzlies' 115-113 win Tuesday night. "So at that point, I pretty much just had to lock in and go deliver. And I did."
In a captivating turn of events, Morant concluded his spectacular performance with a game-winning buzzer-beater, marking the first of his career. Wrapping up a remarkable stat line of 34 points, six rebounds, and eight assists, Morant showcased his prowess on the court. He outmaneuvered Pelicans' defensive standout Herbert Jones with a decisive spin move in the lane, gracefully laying the ball in as the clock hit zero at the Smoothie King Center.
Morant silenced the New Orleans crowd that had initially booed him upon his return from a 25-game suspension. The suspension stemmed from his involvement in an incident where he brandished a firearm on an Instagram Live video in May, marking his second such occurrence in two months.
The arena witnessed a jubilant celebration from Morant's teammates, along with hundreds of enthusiastic Grizzlies fans, including his father, Tee, and best friend, Davonte Pack. They occupied courtside seats on the baseline, just steps away from the Memphis bench.