NBA fans didn’t need more proof that Ja Morant is among the game’s most exciting talents, but they got it.
Morant, who had been struggling throughout, sent the the playoffs into a spin and ignited his team, with what has been described as one of the best poster dunks of all time, before turning up in the clutch to help his side secure a crucial come -from-behind 111-109 game five victory against Minnesota, to take a 3-2 series lead.
Morant stole the show in the third quarter with an epic drive to the hole, when he got the better of the Wolves’ Malik Beasley to stuff the ball into the basket with ferocity.
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“I wasn’t that excited about the dunk…it was over a guard. That’s pretty easy,” Morant said after the match.
Morant and the Grizzlies weren’t at their best but they managed to get the job done against a stubborn Minnesota team.
Morant scored on a layup with a second left, and Memphis rallied from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to edge the Timberwolves.
Morant, named the NBA’s most improved player this week, struggled mightily much of the game. But he turned it on in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points — including nine of 10 at the free-throw line.
Morant came from the low post as the Grizzlies inbounded the ball with 3.7 seconds left and lost Anthony Edwards at the top of the key. That left him an open lane into the paint that he’s so rarely had in this series, beating Jarred Vanderbilt with his left hand on an underhanded layup.
Morant finished with 30 and had 13 rebounds and nine assists. Desmond Bane added 25 points, and Brandon Clarke had 21 off the bench for Memphis, and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 12 before fouling out.
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Anthony Edwards had 22, and D’Angelo Russell added 12 and Taurean Prince 10.
The Timberwolves led 99-88 with 6:58 left after three free throws by Towns and Jackson fouling out for a second straight game. The Grizzlies responded with a 10-0 run to set up a thrilling finish to what had been an ugly game with plenty of poor shooting.
Edwards tied it up at 109 for Minnesota with a three with 3.7 seconds left. That set up Morant for the final drive to the basket for the game-winner.
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins was fined $15,000 for criticizing the officiating after game four, a 119-118 win by Minnesota. This time around his Grizzlies got to the free-throw line more than Minnesota — they just didn’t shoot well once there, making 26 of 39 compared to Minnesota’s 21 of 24.
The Grizzlies opened the game on a 13-2 run and looked liked the team that earned the highest seed in franchise history.
Then Jackson got his second foul on Patrick Beverley’s three and went to the bench. The Timberwolves, the NBA’s best three-point shooting team in the regular season, started knocking down shots, going seven of 11 outside the arc and leading 31-28 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was a different story, with Minnesota hitting only one of nine outside the arc and leading 55-53 at halftime.
Minnesota outscored Memphis 30-21 in the third, but Morant capped the quarter with a windmill dunk that helped give the Grizzlies some much-needed energy.
Timberwolves: Russell came in 17 of 55 overall and nine of 24 from beyond the arc in this series. He knocked down his first two shots Tuesday, a pair of back-to-back threes, and finished two of four from three and four of 10 from the floor. … Beverley had their first four-point play in the postseason at 8:14 of the first quarter.
Grizzlies: Bane got a technical in the second quarter for shoving Timberwolves coach Chris Finch. Bane also opened the game with his 20th 3-point in this series. … Ziaire Williams played four minutes and did not finish the game with a sore right knee.
IN THE CROWD
Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph were former Grizzlies in attendance along with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Kentucky coach John Calipari sits near the Timberwolves’ bench. Alex Rodriguez, a Minnesota co-owner, also was in attendance, and Usher was on hand as well sitting next to Morant’s father Tee.
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