Grading Ja Morant’s Grizzlies return: Memphis’ star sinks Pelicans with game-winner in legendary performance

Ja Morant is officially back.

After serving a 25-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the league, Morant returned to action on Tuesday in a major way. In what was his first NBA action in nearly eight months, Morant exceeded even the loftiest expectations, capping off a 32-point performance with a buzzer-beating game-winner in a 115-113 win over the Pelicans.

As the dust settles from Morant’s return to action, let’s go beyond the box score to assess his performance.

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Grading Ja Morant’s Grizzlies return

Ahead of the game, Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said that he wouldn’t “go crazy” with Morant’s minutes but clarified that Memphis’ guard would not be on any type of minutes restriction. While Morant practiced with the team throughout his suspension, there were concerns about his conditioning coming in.

Morant certainly had his moments where he appeared to be exhausted but after pushing through, the results were legendary.

The first half was where the rust was most evident with Morant. Clearly out of sync, the Grizzlies trailed by as many as 24 points in the first two frames and Morant had seven points, three assists and two turnovers in 16 minutes of action.

With Memphis trailing by 19 at the half, it appeared as though Morant’s night would end early in a blowout. Then he came alive.

In the third quarter, Morant helped the Grizzlies chip into the deficit, scoring 13 points, dishing out four assists and pulling down three rebounds in the quarter alone.

Perhaps the biggest sign that Morant was back? His dribble penetration and finishing around the rim, like such:

It took two quarters and some change, but Morant’s timing was back and he appeared to be getting back in sync with the teammates he set up with his playmaking. Heading into the fourth quarter, Memphis trailed by just 10 points.

Morant began the fourth quarter on the bench, returning to the floor after resting for the first few minutes of the final frame. When Morant checked back in, Memphis trailed 96-89. 

Over the next 8:07 of game time, the Grizzlies outscored the Pelicans 24-17. With 10 seconds remaining, the game was tied and the Grizzlies gained possession after forcing a stop.

There was no question whose hands the ball would be in.

On an isolation play, Morant took on an All-NBA caliber defender in Herbert Jones and, upon getting into the lane, was met by another superb defender in Dyson Daniels. It didn’t matter.

Morant’s spinning finish is worth another look, this time from an in-arena perspective.

After the game, Morant told TNT’s Stephanie Ready “I’m a dog,” when asked about the thrilling finish to his impressive performance. On a night where his team looked lost early, Morant did just enough to save them.

Whether or not Morant can do enough to rescue the Grizzlies from their 6-19 start in his absence remains to be seen, but his efforts to lift them to 7-19 are an encouraging sign that he’s the man for the job.

Simply put, Morant’s first game back was nothing short of a masterpiece.

Grade: A+

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Ja Morant stats vs. Pelicans

  • 35 minutes
  • 34 points
  • 8 assists
  • 6 rebounds
  • 5 turnovers
  • 2 steals
  • 12 of 24 (50.0 percent) field goals
  • 10 of 12 (83.3 percent) free throws
  • 0 of 5 3-point field goals

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