Ja Morant receives standing ovation, scores 17 points off bench in return to Grizzlies
A storybook finish was in the making when the Memphis Grizzlies hosted the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
The electric FedExForum was magnified with the return of Ja Morant after serving an eight-game suspension. Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said he wanted to keep Morant in the low 20s of minutes. His math worked out perfectly when Morant entered the game with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter after playing 19 minutes.
Morant entered the game with a lineup that included Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, Luke Kennard and Santi Aldama, and the Rockets' defense had no answers. The Grizzlies pulled away in the final minute to secure a 130-125 victory against the Rockets.
The Grizzlies (45-27) have won four consecutive games and seven of their last eight. Jackson led the Grizzlies with a season-high 37 points. Morant scored 17 points in his return.
Where does Ja Morant go from here?: The choice is up to him.
Houston (18-55) was led by Kenyon Martin Jr.'s 31 points. Alperen Sengun finished with 25 points and eight rebounds before fouling out.
Ja Morant returns
Morant checked into the game with 3:05 left in the first quarter, and was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers throughout the FedExForum. The two-time All-Star didn't take long to get involved. His biggest highlight came on the first possession of the second quarter when he threw down a two-handed dunk over Kenyon Martin Jr.
A loud standing ovation for Ja Morant in his return to the floor. pic.twitter.com/0LrY2x5Afb
— Damichael Cole (@DamichaelC) March 23, 2023
Morant came off the bench for the first time in his NBA career. He looked comfortable in the temporary role. Before the game, Jenkins said the Grizzlies would reevaluate if Morant will come off the bench for the next game.
STILL THAT DUDE @JaMorant pic.twitter.com/Mw3Cw6o7yT
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) March 23, 2023
“Obviously, I’m thankful and grateful for everybody who has been supporting me during this time,” Morant said of the reception. “It definitely helped me a lot. Definitely made me feel a little better. Eased everything that’s been going on. Felt good to be back. Super excited and glad we were able to get the win.”
Jaren Jackson Jr. still looks as dominant as ever
Jackson is turning into a player that opposing teams may fear. In the past, there have been questions about his aggressiveness when playing alongside Morant and how their playing styles mesh, but that isn't the case right now. The Grizzlies are getting Jackson the ball in isolation situations, and he's punishing smaller defenders to create easy scoring opportunities. Rookie Rockets forward Jabari Smith has been touted for his defense early in his career, but Jackson used his 30-pound advantage to dominate the paint.
Defense struggles without Dillon Brooks
The Grizzlies were on fire on offense, but their defensive effort kept the Rockets in the game. Memphis scored 75 points in the first half, but it couldn't pull away. Shifty Rockets guard Jalen Green was tough to guard. Dillon Brooks would have been matched up against Green, but he missed the game due to picking up his 18th technical foul and serving a one-game suspension. David Roddy started in place of Brooks and scored 13 points.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Grizzlies' Ja Morant scores 17 points in first game since suspension