Ja Morant earns Wizards' respect by sparking Grizzlies' comeback win

Mike DePrisco
NBC Sports Washington

The Grizzlies held a 102-96 lead over the Wizards with less than one minute to go in the game. 

As Ja Morant used a screen from Brandon Clarke, both Ish Smith and Davis Bertans blitzed the rookie to get the ball out of his hands. There was just five seconds left on the shot clock.

Morant then tried to make a tough pass to Clarke in mid-air, but Smith deflected the ball back into his hands. 2.5 seconds are left on the shot clock. This was the stop the Wizards needed. 

That's when the Memphis guard gathered himself, pump-faked once and drilled a three as the shot clock expired. Dagger.

The Grizzlies' young phenom recorded the first triple-double of his career with 27 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. Only four players in NBA history have scored 27 points in a triple-double at age 20 or younger: LeBron James, Luka Doncic, De'Aaron Fox and now Ja Morant.

"He's a problem," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after his group's 106-99 loss on Sunday. "That's a rare talent, they're lucky to have him. He's gonna be an outstanding player for a lot of years."

RELATED: GRIZZLIES, MORANT TOO MUCH FOR WIZARDS

Morant was somewhat held in check for most of the game Sunday night. He was distributing to his teammates, took what the Washington defense gave him and was seemingly feeling his way through the first half. The second half, and especially the fourth quarter is when Morant made every big play down the stretch to seal the win. 

The Wizards were in a position to win this game, they just didn't make enough plays. Morant did, and Davis Bertans summed things up pretty perfectly.

"I think Ja Morant just took it over in the end," Bertans said. "We didn't stop him."

When you watch Morant play, he looks like he's operating under a different set of rules. His athleticism is off the charts, it's impossible to stay in front of him and when the help defender comes, he's able to make a quick read and find an open shooter.

He had 10 assists Sunday when the Grizzlies as a whole shot 42.2% from the floor and 15.6% from three. Things could have been much, much worse for the Wizards. 

"It's one mistake and he gets by you and he has the ability to make passes," Brooks said. "He can jump up in the air and you know, most people think that's a bad pass but he's able to compete, he hangs in the air and makes you make a decision, and the decision you make, he goes the opposite way."

It's hard not to think of John Wall when watching Morant. The speed, the explosive first step, the court vision, the passing. Bradley Beal has said he sees a lot of Wall in Morant's game, and Beal doesn't throw around praise to everyone. 

"He's really fast with the ball. It reminds you of John [Wall] in a lot of ways," Beal said in December. He plays with his pace."

For a rookie who's been getting showered with praise while leading his team to a spot in the Western Conference playoffs, Morant handles it with maturity. 

"Coming from [Beal] it means a lot," Morant said. "I appreciate it, but he's a tough player himself." 

When asked about Brooks calling him, "a problem"?

"It's big coming from [Brooks]," he said. "He's a guy that knows a lot of basketball. It means a lot but I'm still humble and also confident, but I still have a lot more work to do."

Zion Williamson was the headliner in the 2019 NBA Draft. All the attention was on him, but in the time Williamson was sidelined with a knee injury, Morant has ascended as the class' top player. 

Things can change, but it's clear the Grizzlies have a special player on their hands. And for a Wizards team that has witnessed Wall's rise into stardom, they know when an athletic point guard has "it."

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Ja Morant earns Wizards' respect by sparking Grizzlies' comeback win originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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