The Memphis Grizzlies entered the fifth game of their six-game homestand against the Cleveland Cavaliers with the longest current winning streak in the NBA (6 games). The Grizz also lead the NBA scoring at 119 points per game. In fact, the last time the Grizzlies did not score at least 110 was a Dec. 20 loss to the Cavs (114-107).
Friday night, Memphis scored at least 110 – and got a 113-109 win over Cleveland in front of 17,102 roaring fans at FedexForum.
It was the official Ja Morant night at FedexForum. And Morant fans decked out in Murray State gear turned out in droves to support Morant, who played there. Many showed up hours before the doors opened and just hung out near the front of the arena. Morant was presented with the NBA Rookie of the Month award just before the tipoff.
Memphis got off to a decent start for the game. Dillion Brooks got off to a very hot start. He scored 10 points in the first period. Jonas Valanciunas was active on the boards grabbing nine rebounds in the period and scoring six points. Memphis took the early lead of (27-25) to end the first period.
In the second period, the accumulations of fouls would affect the team early. Jaren Jackson Jr. had to leave the game with 10:34 left in the first half with his third foul. Brooks exited the game with his third foul a few minutes later.
Memphis went down to Cleveland twice by nine points. Grayson Allen helped the Grizzlies stay close by scoring nine points in six minutes. Memphis was able to stay close and only trailed by two points (56-54) going into the half.
Memphis came out with better energy to start the second half. The stars showed up for the Grizzlies. Jaren, Ja and Dillon all contributed early, and Memphis took their largest lead of the game 70-62 with 7:42 left in the third.
Morant, no doubt wanting to show off for his Murray State fans, provided the crowd with back to back highlight plays. On one fast break, Crowder lobbed a pass out of position for Morant to dunk. Instead, Morant caught the pass and instantly shot it to a trailing Jackson for the dunk. On the very next fast break, Crowder and Morant connected on a one-handed alley-oop that reeeeeallly makes you wish Morant would be in the dunk contest:
There was a strange moment as Tristan Thompson was at the line. Between shots, Crowder walked across the lane, and moments later Crowder and Thompson were glaring at each other as if to come to blows. Thompson was ejected as Crowder kept his cool and walked to the Grizzlies bench. A replay revealed that Thompson had patted Crowder on the butt as he passed by. The ref instantly ejected Thompson.
Memphis went on to dominate the period and outscored Cleveland 38-20 to take a 92-76 lead into the final period. Cleveland may have been down, but they were not out. With 6:21 left the Cavs managed to cut into the Memphis lead (103-96) and forced a Grizzlies timeout.
Memphis held off the late rally to secure the win. Brooks finished with a team-high 26 points. Morant finished with 16 points and eight assists. Brandon Clarke had 15 points off the bench. Collin Sexton had 26 points in a losing effort for Cleveland.
“A play here or there could have flipped the game, but we found sparks throughout the game to keep the lead,” said Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins.
“It was a huge team win,” he continued. “I told the guys afterwards, certain guys did not have it tonight, but we found it in the second quarter to find a way. It was a team win. It comes in different forms and fashions.”
On the seven-game winning streak Jenkins said, “We have taken huge strides on how we want to execute in certain situations and how we can be consistent night in and night out.”
“This is the longest streak I have ever been on,” said Brooks, in his third season. “I’ve seen this group grow from when I first got here. To see the fans coming to the arena more, it makes you want to play harder.”
Morant was very appreciative of the support he received from the Murray State fans that were in attendance. He is not feeling any pressure by becoming the face of the franchise. Morant had many signature plays that were not converted. That lob dunk from Crowder was the No. 1 play on ESPN Sportscenter’s “Top plays of the day.”
The last time Memphis won seven straight games was from Jan. 21 – Feb 4, 2015. No one on the current roster had experienced more than a three-game winning streak with the team. Memphis will attempt to extend that streak Monday when they host the New Orleans Pelicans for the Martin Luther King Celebration game on Jan. 20 at 4 p.m.
It will be Morant’s first MLK game.
“It is an honor to be able to play on that night,” he said. “It is a special night. To be able to play here at home on TV is an honor for all of us.”
Lee Eric Smith contributed to this report.