Ja Morant exploded into life during the fourth quarter – including an acrobatic game-winning lay-up with one second remaining – to lead a dazzling comeback from the Memphis Grizzlies as they stunned the Minnesota Timberwolves 111-109 on Tuesday to take a 3-2 series lead in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The star guard scored 18 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter and sealed the deal with his dramatic lay-up to wrap up the game.
“‘Go get a bucket, Ja,’” Morant said when asked reporters what the plan had been ahead of the last play of the game.
It had been a topsy-turvy game as the Grizzlies built an early 13-2 lead. The Wolves were the NBA’s best three-point shooting teams in the regular season and they unleashed a series of shots from deep in response, netting seven of their 11 triples to lead 31-28 after the first quarter.
The Wolves extended their advantage and led 99-88 with 6:58 left after Grizzlies’ center Jaren Jackson Jr. fouled out.
A resurgent Morant stepped up, scoring the Grizzlies’ last 13 points of the game. His three-pointer with 1:03 left gave Memphis the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter.
“He [Morant] was huge, he just kept staying the course,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said to reporters after the game. “I know, just like the whole team, he wasn’t having the best start, but I thought he was doing everything possible offensively and defensively, just shots weren’t falling when he was making plays and we were making shots off his passes. His communication to his teammates was phenomenal.”
T-Wolves shooting guard Edwards then tied the game at 109-109 with a three-pointer of his own. He scored 22 points in the game, second only to teammate Karl-Anthony Towns who came up big with 28 points and 12 rebounds.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Towns said afterward, according to ESPN. “You feel like you got it after all the mistakes made and everything like that.
“We hit a big three to tie the game up with four seconds (left). You feel good. You feel good about going into overtime and having a chance to win the game. Just a learning experience.”
Fittingly, Morant had the last word in the game as he danced through the Wolves’ defense before producing his game-winner that eluded the clutches of Jarred Vanderbilt.
“It feels good when you win,” Morant said. “Me personally, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of playing from behind.”
“Game 2, you see what happened when we come out and play from the jump. We’ve got to have that mindset like we had in Game 2 in Game 6 [on Friday]: not give them too much life to go ahead.
“We need to start early. The last three games we haven’t played our basketball, not knocking down our shots, but we battle.”
The teams next play each other on Friday in Minnesota in Game 6.
Elsewhere in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns took a 3-2 lead in their series, downing the New Orleans Pelicans 112-97 as Mikal Bridges scored 31 points and Chris Paul added 22 points and 11 assists.
Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, Victor Oladipo and Bam Adebayo combined for 43 points as the depleted Miami Heat defeated the Atlanta Hawks 97-94 to complete a 4-1 series victory. Miami will face either Philadelphia or Toronto in the Eastern Conference semifinals.