“I think I’m top-five.”
After one of the worst games of his professional career against the New York Knicks on Monday, this is what Ja Morant said when asked by Shaquille O’Neal where he ranked among the league’s point guards. It was a bold declaration to say the least, especially considering both his and the Grizzlies’ recent struggles.
But great players and leaders respond in moments of adversity. And that is exactly what Ja Morant did as the Grizzlies snapped a two-game skid with a thrilling 139-135 win on the road against the rapidly improving Minnesota Timberwolves. Ja Morant was absolutely sensational, scoring 37 points on 14-25 shooting as well as dishing out 10 assists in one of the most defining performances of his young career.
Many of the Grizzlies’ recent issues plagued them early on, as they allowed the Wolves to shoot 67% from the field before a Taylor Jenkins timeout 7 minutes in to the game. But the Grizzlies would respond with a phenomenal rest of the half on the offensive end, leading 73-63 at the half. There was a problem, however, that kept the Grizzlies from pulling away in the second half.
That problem was Anthony Edwards.
While Edwards has had plenty of good games of late, he finally came into his superstar own with probably the best game of his young career. He scored 39 points on an absurd 16-21 shooting and 7-8 from three while totaling 6 rebounds and 7 assists, and his third quarter explosion in particular allowed the Wolves turn a 13-point deficit into a 5-point lead.
But when the Grizzlies started to stumble, Ja Morant stood taller than ever before, keeping the Grizzlies afloat whenever they started to sink.
While Ja was phenomenal, he was not the only young Grizzly to give a defining performance. Desmond Bane totaled 22 points on 8-14 shooting and 4-9 from three, including two clutch threes with less than two minutes to go in the game. He continued his exciting trend of scoring effectively from all three levels on the court and also made the final free throw to put the game away with less than 10 seconds remaining.
There is, of course, still much for the Grizzlies to figure out as they acclimate Jaren Jackson Jr., who didn’t play tonight, back into the lineup. But at least for tonight, there’s only one important thing to remember.