Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant scored his team's final 13 points in a playoff win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday in Memphis. Photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA-EFE
April 27 (UPI) -- Ja Morant already won this year's Most Improved Player Award, but showed he holds even more potential with an emphatic dunk and game-winning shot in a Memphis Grizzlies' playoff victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Grizzlies guard totaled a game-high 30 points, with 13 rebounds and nine assists in the 111-109 triumph in Game 5 of the first-round series Tuesday at FedExForum in Memphis. He scored 18 points over the final 12 minutes to help the Grizzlies earn a 3-2 series lead.
"The dunk definitely ignited the crowd and gave us some energy," Morant told reporters. "From then on, it was pretty much about being very aggressive."
The game featured eight lead changes and was tied four times. Morant scored the Grizzlies' final 13 points to seal the victory.
The Grizzlies outscored the Timberwolves 62-38 in the paint, 19-10 off fast breaks and 34-32 off the bench. They also held a 53-42 edge in rebounds and forced 22 turnovers.
"We had a lot of guys that came in and contributed big time for us and helped us come back and get a win," Morant said.
Morant's most emphatic moment came at the end of the third quarter. The Grizzlies trailed 85-72 with under 10 seconds remaining when he held the ball at half court. Morant then ran around his initial defender's left hip and dribbled past the 3-point line.
He then picked up his dribble, took a long step into the paint, took flight and pulled the ball far back in his right hand.
Morant's left knee scraped defender Malik Beasley's face as he neared the rim. The Grizzlies guard then finished the play by smashing the ball through the hoop with 5.3 seconds left in the quarter.
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns went on to make a 3-pointer with 9:38 remaining in the fourth to increase his team's edge to 92-79.
A few minutes later, the Grizzlies used a 10-0 run to cut the Timberwolves lead to one point with 4:39 remaining.
The Timberwolves held onto a narrow advantage until Morant made a 3-pointer to give the Grizzlies a 107-106 edge with 1:03 remaining. Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards later tied the game at 109-109 with a 3-pointer with less than four seconds remaining.
That gave Morant just enough time to answer.
Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks threw in an in-bound pass from the left sideline to spark the play. Morant caught the feed near the 3-point line, shook off Edwards and jumped through the paint.
He then adjusted his shot in midair, went around Timberwolves forward Jarred Vanderbilt and laid a shot off the glass with his left hand. The ball touched lightly off the backboard and went through the net, giving the Grizzlies their final advantage with a second remaining.
Towns missed the Timberwolves final attempt on the other end to finish the game.
Fellow Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane scored 25 points in the win. Brandon Clarke chipped in 21 points and 15 rebounds off the Grizzlies bench.
Towns totaled 28 points and 12 rebounds in the loss. Edwards scored 22 for the Timberwolves.
The No. 7 seed Timberwolves host the No. 2 Grizzlies in Game 6 on Friday at Target Center in Minneapolis.
The winner of the series will face either the No. 3 Golden State Warriors or No. 6 Denver Nuggets in the second round. The Warriors lead that series 3-1.