There’s levels to stardom in the NBA.
Dejounte Murray is an awesome athlete, an All-Star caliber player in his own right. But Ja Morant is a generational talent who will likely soon be starting in his first All-Star game. That distinction was on display tonight, as Morant led the Grizzlies to a thrilling 118-110 win on the road in San Antonio. He finished with 41 points on 15-28 shooting and 3-5 from three along with 5 rebounds and 8 assists.
In the first half, contrasting styles was the name of the game. The Grizzlies were able to do what they normally do by dominating the paint and owning the glass against a tiny Spurs front-court, while the Spurs veered away from their identity to become a prolific shooting team in response to an obviously intentional effort by the Grizzlies to keep them out of the paint. Jaren Jackson Jr., who scored 13 points in the half entirely inside the paint, and Keldon Johnson, who totaled 14 points and shot 4-7 from three, represented these opposite approaches.
The Grizzlies led by as much as 15, but superb shooting and ball-movement (19 assists in the half) allowed the Spurs to close the gap to 61-58 at halftime.
Jaren continued to dominate the paint on both ends as the second half, as his two-way play allowed the Grizzlies to lead by as much as 13. He scored 22 points and blocked 6 shots on the night.
The Spurs, however, continued to battle, and Murray caught fire in the 4th quarter, scoring 11 of his 16 points in the frame. They tied the game with just over 5 minutes remaining, but Ja and Jaren both rose to the occasion. Jaren made a go-ahead three-point with just under 5 minutes left, and Ja scored 11 points of his own, including 6 straight game-clinching free throws with less than 2 minutes remaining.
Desmond Bane also had an excellent return to the lineup, posting 20 points on 7-16 shooting.