Ja Morant made a scintillating return from a 25-game suspension Tuesday, driving for a game-winning layup as time expired to lift the Memphis Grizzlies to a 115-113 NBA victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
The basket capped a 34-point, eight-assist, six-rebound performance from Morant, who was suspended by the league for the first 25 games of the season after a pair of social media posts in which he displayed guns.
He looked a little rusty to start, and a little weary at the finish, but ultimately Morant delivered everything the Grizzlies could have hoped for and more.
“I ain’t played a game in eight months,” he told broadcaster TNT. “Had a lot of time… a lot of hard days where I went through it.
“But you know, basketball is my life, what I love, therapeutic for me and I’m just excited to be back.”
The Pelicans, led by 34 points from Brandon Ingram, were up 60-41 at halftime, but the Grizzlies hit back in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 10 entering the final period.
With 1:20 left to play, Morant connected with a floater that put them up 111-109 — Memphis’ first lead since the first quarter.
It was tied at 113-113 when Morant grabbed the rebound of a CJ McCollum miss and after a timeout took the ball up the court and sliced into the lane for the game-winner.
“I felt like it was the perfect ending, perfect day, being able to come back and play and also deliver a game winner for us,” he said.
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said before the game that Morant was “fired up,” adding that his message to the 24-year-old was “go out there, have fun, build chemistry with your teammates and just enjoy this opportunity to be back on the floor.”
Morant heard plenty of boos in the early going in New Orleans.
But he had support around the league, including a social media post from Lakers superstar LeBron James.
“12 welcome back!!” James wrote shortly before tip-off. “Go be GREAT again!!”
After the game, James posted: “12!!!!That’s All”.
Elsewhere, the Golden State Warriors edged the Boston Celtics 132-126 in an overtime thriller in San Francisco and Damian Lillard scored a season-high 40 points — hitting an NBA milestone — in the Milwaukee Bucks’ 132-119 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
Warriors star Stephen Curry scored 13 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and seven in overtime to power the Warriors’ comeback from a 17-point deficit.
He and Klay Thompson drilled six three-pointers apiece as the Warriors ended Boston’s five-game winning streak.
A Curry three-pointer with 1:36 left in regulation knotted the score at 121-121. Both teams missed chances as they went to the extra session, in which the Warriors grabbed the lead on Jonathan Kuminga’s steal and dunk and never trailed.
Curry said the gritty win was just what the Warriors needed.
“We want to be a playoff contender and these are the type of games that show us that we can be that,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep putting them together.”
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 28 points, Derrick White added 30 and Jayson Tatum chipped in 15 points with eight rebounds and seven assists, playing on after rolling his ankle in the first quarter.
In Milwaukee, Lillard’s big night saw him become the 51st NBA player to reach 20,000 career points.
“The 20,000 points, when I hear that it takes me back to the beginning,” Lillard said. “It’s a blessing and an honor to have that type of accomplishment.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo also starred, notching a triple-double of 11 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high 16 assists in the win against a Spurs team missing rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama, who sat out with a sore ankle.
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