Ja Morant, who had 28 points, encounters resistance from the Clippers' Ivica Zubac on this drive. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)
TSD Grizzlies columnist Terry Davis is in LA covering the first two games of Memphis’ 4-game, opening-season road trip.

LOS ANGELES – When an opposing team’s player hits a game-winning shot with the clock running down on your home court, fans often feel the effects in the pits of their stomachs.

Such was the case on Saturday night at the Staples Center, where the visiting Memphis Grizzlies ruined the season opener for the Los Angeles Clippers with a 120-114 win.

Jaren Jackson Jr. supplied the dagger shot – a three-point bomb on a pass from Ja Morant with 17.5 seconds left.

“You work all summer for this type of moment,” said Jackson. “You just hear the crowd feel sick and it is a good feeling.”

After holding on Wednesday night against Cleveland to win its opener at FedExForum, the Grizzlies had to do so for the second straight game. This time on the road in the high-profile atmosphere of LA and against NBA All-Star Paul George, who scored a game-high 41 points.

“Every win is important.  It means a little bit more because they are a really good team.  Pretty big win for us,” said starting center Steven Adams, who had 17 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in his evolving role for the Grizzlies. “A lot of good progress for us. The progress (for) us is the main thing.”

Memphis’ starters combined for 107 total points. Morant led the way with 28 points and 8 assists. De’Anthony Melton had 22 points, Jackson 21 and Desmond Bane scored 19 points, including a clutch triple after the hard-to-handle George connected on a three-pointer to cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 114-112 with 1:14 left in the game.

Down by nine (34-25) at the end of the first quarter, Memphis fell behind 34-25 to end the first quarter and trailed by 13 in the second quarter before clawing back within three (62-59) by halftime.

After the break, the Grizzlies pushed ahead, built their largest lead (16 points) and were on top 91-75 with 2:57 left in the third quarter. With George going off, the Clippers fought back, cutting the deficit to four points (93-89) before the Grizzlies ended the quarter with a 4-0 spurt and a 97-89 lead.

Last season, the Grizzlies had trouble closing out quarters and allowed some winnable games to get away in the closing minutes.

“It just shows our growth,” said Melton. “We understand how important closing quarters are. We are not trying to give away those and we are just sticking to our principles.”

Head coach Taylor Jenkins called the team’s improvement in closing out quarters “big time growth. …

“We have learned a lot the last two years. … We weathered a lot of storms tonight. … We made some big time plays (and)a lot of it started on the defensive end.”

Jackson said, “We woke up (on defense). Early on they hit a lot of threes. We just started to chip away at it. Paul (George) was hitting shots. You know, weather the storm and you find yourself back in the game.”

The Grizzlies have been locked in and motivated, said Jenkins.

“We just kept battling. The communication on the bench has been on a different level this year. A lot of great leadership from some individual guys.”

NOTES:

  • The Clippers were without injured superstar Kawhi Leonard, who has been named to the 75th Anniversary All-NBA team.
  • Memphis returns to the Staples Center Sunday night (Oct. 24) to play LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m.
  • Rookie Ziaire Williams had six points (two triples) and two assists in 16 minutes. “The role he has been playing he is getting confident in it,” said Jenkins. “Two big-time threes for us. … he is going out there and giving great effort. There are things that don’t show up in the box score that are wins for us.”

GALLERY