Ja Morant embraces the 'pressure' to lead Memphis Grizzlies past Golden State Warriors and into NBA playoffs

Point guard hits 35 points and the game-clinching shot to set up first round showdown with top seeds Utah Jazz

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) and forward Dillon Brooks (24) celebrate the win against the Golden State Warriors. Reuters
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) and forward Dillon Brooks (24) celebrate the win against the Golden State Warriors. Reuters

Ja Morant said he thrives under pressure and that was certainly evident on Friday night as the point guard hit the game-winning shot as part of a 35-point performance to lead the Memphis Grizzlies past the Golden State Warriors 117-112 in overtime and into the NBA playoffs.

Memphis looked to be easing into the playoffs having held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter but a late rally by the Warriors, led inevitably by Steph Curry, forced the game into overtime.

The Grizzlies quickly shrugged off the setback to regroup and clinch victory, behind the sustained excellence of Morant, who hit the final points with a 10-foot floater to earn his team eighth spot in the playoffs and a showdown with the Utah Jazz.

"That's the shots I want to take," said Morant, who hit a career-high five three-pointers. "I like it when the pressure is on me. I lift my game. I got all the confidence in the world in my game."

The Grizzlies had to reach the playoffs the hard way, coming through two play-in games - they held off the San Antonio Spurs in the first - and will face the top-seeded Jazz in the first game of the series in Salt Lake City on Sunday.

With the 21-year-old Morant leading the way, the Grizzlies are the youngest NBA team in the postseason in a decade.

"We know we are a young team. We have some vets that lead us," said Morant. "It is my first time making the playoffs, but we got some players who have been in playoffs before. They let us know what to expect."

The Warriors and Curry produced a fine run of form toward the end of the regular season, but it proved too little too late to earn a playoff spot. Facing NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers in the first play-in game, they came up just short in a 103-100 defeat, leaving them with the do-or-die game against the Grizzlies.

"We were two fourth quarters from being the seventh or eight seed," said Curry, who hit a game-high 39 points and is in the running for league MVP. "It is frustrating that this is the end and this is how we are going out.

"It is a very tough way to end it, coming down to the wire and us giving everything we had in the tank."

In addition to Curry's had a game-high tally, Andrew Wiggins had 22 points, and Draymond Green finished with a triple double of 11 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists for Golden State, who trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half.

"We would have loved to go into playoffs and tried to make run," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. "Obviously it is a crushing way to go out, two straight games both gut punches.

"We felt like we had control the other night and lost, and we didn't have control of this one, but could have won."

Golden State have undoubtedly missed the point-scoring prowess of Klay Thompson this, and last, season and the All-Star guard said he is desperate to return to action.

The sharpshooting 31-year-old missed the last season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament and could not play this season after tearing his right Achilles tendon.

"While our season comes to an end, mine's just getting started. I've never been hungrier," Thompson said on Instagram late on Friday.

"I truly believe my best ball lies ahead of me, we ain't done I promise you that."

Dillon Brooks scored 14 points, Grayson Allen finished with 12 and Tillman tallied 11 for Memphis. Morant said they hope to carry the confidence over from this win into the next series.

"It is going to be a fight. They are the best team in league and we got to lock in on our game plan," said Morant.

Published: May 22, 2021 02:44 PM

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