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Ja Morant Returns Triumphantly as Grizzlies Beat Pelicans on Buzzer-Beater

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Dec 21, 2023

Ja Morant made a dramatic return for the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night after serving a five-week suspension from the NBA. Morant scored 34 points, including the game-winning basket as time expired, to lead the Grizzlies past the New Orleans Pelicans 115-113.

Lengthy Absence Preceded Highly Anticipated Return

Morant had been suspended since November 26 stemming from an incident earlier last month when he confronted Indiana Pacers wing Andrew Nembhard on social media. Nembhard had dunked on Morant late in a win over the Grizzlies, leading Morant to threaten the rookie on Twitter.

The 23-year-old guard quickly deleted the tweet but the damage was done. He met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver shortly after and was handed a 25-game ban for “threatening language” that represented “a violation of league rules”.

Morant apologized publicly but remained mostly quiet over the past month, using the downtime to recharge mentally while rehabbing from minor injuries.

“It was tough not being on that court with my brothers fighting. I worked every day to get back to this point,” Morant said after Tuesday’s win. “I let my emotions get the best of me and said some things I shouldn’t have. I had to pay the consequences, but now I’m back.”

While Morant was out, the Grizzlies predictably struggled without their All-NBA floor general. They entered Tuesday’s contest just 13-12 since the suspension and had fallen to 5th place in the Western Conference after occupying the 2nd spot at the time of the incident.

Date Opponent Result
Nov 26 Minnesota L 101-93
Nov 27 New York L 127-123
Nov 29 Sacramento W 113-106
Dec 2 Philadelphia L 117-109
Dec 4 Detroit W 122-112

Jaw-Dropping Highlights Aid Gritty Comeback

It initially appeared that Morant’s return wouldn’t quite go as scripted. The Pelicans led wire-to-wire and were up by as many as 14 points in the second half before Morant and the Grizz chipped away in the fourth quarter.

Morant scored 15 of his 34 points over the final 8 minutes, including a thunderous baseline dunk to cut the deficit to four and a tough pull-up jumper with under a minute left to make it a one possession game.

Morant throws down vicious dunk

After the Pelicans split a pair of free throws to go up 113-111, Morant got the ball in transition and calmly pulled up from near the wing at the top of the arc for a cold-blooded triple over two defenders to give Memphis the lead with 1.5 seconds left.

“My first game back, I just wanted to remind people who I am and why I should be talked about as one of the best hoopers in the world,” said a smiling Morant after playing hero down the stretch. “It felt good. I was made for moments like that.”

Morant finished 12-of-24 from the field and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line. He added 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals to pace Memphis. Desmond Bane added 20 points while Jaren Jackson Jr chipped in 16 points in the comeback win.

Validation from Peers After Statement Performance

It was a performance that wowed others around the league as well, including Lakers superstar LeBron James who tweeted his admiration for the young guard.

“Yessir @JaMorant! Rolled out the red carpet for his return back to the court! Strong Reemergence,” James posted shortly after Morant’s game-winner.

Former MVP Derrick Rose also praised Morant for the mental toughness to come through after his long absence from the court.

“For him to have that moment speaks volumes. I’m very proud of him,” Rose said. “He’s showing his maturity…For him to hit that shot shows where he’s at mentally.”

Playoff Push Back On After Morant’s Heroics

At 18-13 overall now after Tuesday’s thrilling victory, Memphis is once again eyeing home court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. They trail the Denver Nuggets by just 1.5 games for 4th place and the all-important home court edge.

The Grizzlies have struggled somewhat to meet expectations so far but the return of their leader and franchise cornerstone gives them the spark they desperately needed with the second half of the season underway.

They’ll play their next six games at home over the next two weeks, giving them a prime opportunity to gain ground in the standings if Morant and company come ready to play at a high level consistently.

The situation is far from ideal and they have ground to make up but as Morant showed Tuesday, he makes them dangerous enough to beat anyone on any given night.

After the rollercoaster of the last month, Morant and the Grizzlies have new life fueled by the motivation to prove doubters wrong. If Morant can maintain the right mindset and stay healthy alongside Jaren Jackson Jr and others, Memphis may remain a threat in the Western Conference playoffs once again.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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