Grizzlies' Ja Morant nets buzzer beater in return vs. Pelicans

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant scored 27 of his 34 points in the second half to spark a comeback win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday in New Orleans. Photo by Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant scored 27 of his 34 points in the second half to spark a comeback win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday in New Orleans. Photo by Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Ja Morant drove toward the rim, dribbled into a 360-degree turn and hit a shot in off the back of the rim as the final buzzer sounded, leading the Memphis Grizzlies to a dramatic win in his return from a suspension.

Morant scored a game-high 34 points in the 115-113 win Tuesday at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. The star guard was booed early on, as he took the court for the first time since his 25-game suspension for a firearm-related incident, his second such ban in the span of three months.


"I've been prepping for this for eight months," Morant told reporters, when asked about his time away from the court. "It's been eight months since I've played a game.

"I'm confident in the work I was putting in. I was trying to be in the best shape possible to go out there and be able to be out there for the guys."


Morant also totaled eight assists and six rebounds in Tuesday's victory. He scored 27 points in the second half, helping the Grizzlies overcome a large deficit.

"My one expectation for him was to have fun, honestly," Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of Morant. "I know the work he's been putting in. His teammates know the work he's been putting in and how was excited for this opportunity."

The Grizzlies outscored the Pelicans 62-50. They also outshot their foes 50% to 47.1%. The Pelicans, who led by as many as 24 points, were outscored 74-53 over the final 24 minutes.

The Grizzlies outscored the Pelicans 25-21 in the first quarter. Veteran guard C.J. McCollum scored 12 points in the second, as the Pelicans outscored the Grizzlies 39-16 for a 60-41 lead at halftime. The Pelicans used a 28-2 run early on in the second quarter to spark their surge.

The Grizzlies cut the deficit to 10 with a 15-4 run to start the third. Morant scored 13 in the quarter, but the Grizzlies still trailed 87-77 to start the fourth.

Morant and the Grizzlies outscored the Pelicans 38-26 over the final 12 minutes. Grizzlies guard Jaren Jackson Jr. tied the score with two free throws with 1:56 remaining. Morant followed consecutive go-ahead shots, but the Pelicans answered each time.


Morant went on to catch in inbound pass with about 10 seconds remaining for the final possession. He dribbled over half-court, broke into the lane and planted his feet, propelling a spin to his right. He then elevated over several defenders and tossed a shot up with his right hand. The attempt hit the back of the rim before falling through the net as the final buzzer sounded.

Grizzlies players then swarmed Morant in celebration of the victory.

Morant, who hadn't played from the Grizzlies since April, set an NBA record on Thursday for the most points in a return after missing at least 25-consecutive games.

"I've been putting work in," Morant said on the TNT broadcast. "I had a lot of time to learn myself and a lot of hard days where I went through it. Basketball is my life and what I love. It's therapeutic for me. I'm excited to be back."

Morant first suspension -- for eight games -- was issued in March after he live streamed himself while holding a firearm while intoxicated inside a Denver nightclub. His second ban, issued in June, occurred after he was seen waving a gun while inside a car and recorded in a social media video.


Morant, the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, said he worked on his mental health and decision-making, while also meeting with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, during his suspensions.

He logged 34:46 of action in his return. Jackson scored 24 points in 29:38 for the Grizzlies. Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane totaled 21 points.

Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram matched Morant's game-high, with 34 points in the loss. Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas totaled 22 points and 14 rebounds.

The Grizzlies (7-19) will host the Indiana Pacers (13-12) at 8 p.m. EST Thursday in Memphis. The Pelicans (16-12) will face the Cleveland Cavaliers (15-12) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Cleveland.

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