Ja Morant racked up 17 points off the bench on 6-13 shooting with four rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block as he made his return to an NBA floor Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets.
The 23-year-old said his status was ‘up in the air’ Tuesday, but coach Taylor Jenkins all but confirmed Morant would be part of the rotation pregame.
It was the All-Star’s first game since a league-imposed suspension for brandishing a gun in a strip club on March 4.
Early into his return, Morant threw down a characteristically emphatic dunk in an alley-oop over Kenyon Martin Jr.
His father – Tee Morant – who has been subject to commentary about his parental role since the Denver incident, was courtside wearing a hoodie with ‘Redemption’ emblazoning the front.
Memphis won the game by a 130-125 score – which, combined with a Mavericks loss, meant the Grizzlies clinched the playoffs.
Ja Morant returned to the court in his playing uniform Wednesday after his leave of absence
The Grizzlies Twitter account posted a photo of its star en route to the home locker room
In front of his home crowd, Morant helped lead the Grizzlies to a victory over Houston 130-125
Morant racked up 17 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block in the win
As Morant led the team in points off the bench, Jaren Jackson Jr. led all scorers on the night with 37 points and ten boards for the Grizzlies. Desmond Bane had 20 points and seven assists as well for Memphis.
The Rockets had a pair of 30+ point scorers – as Jalen Green dropped 32 points and Kenyon Martin Kr. put up 31 in the shootout.
A celebratory Morant took his daughter Kaari onto the court where she repeated after him saying, ‘It’s a parade inside my city, yeah’.
It’s a win that clinched the playoffs for Memphis, even as Morant took it a little easier than normal in his return to an NBA court.
‘Obviously we don’t have a long runway until the end of the regular season, but we want to be smart with that layoff that we’re not doing anything to jeopardize his health,’ Jenkins told reporters pregame.
Prior to the start of the game, Morant suggested the possibility of playing lessened minutes given his lack of competitive practice and play in recent weeks.
The All-Star has not played since being suspended by the league and Grizzlies, with his last game coming on March 3 vs. Denver.
‘This was something he brought to the table as well as had been on my mind,’ Jenkins said.
‘So we collectively thought this was the best strategy, at least for the first one or two games. And then we’ll kind of reevaluate after that.’
Morant arrived at the downtown Memphis arena Wednesday night dressed in an olive tracksuit and white t-shirt.
Morant spoke publicly for the first time since concluding his eight-game league-enforced suspension Tuesday, describing his current state as an ‘ongoing process’ after 11 days of counseling in Florida during his absence.
Morant, 23, found himself in trouble after flashing a gun at a night club on social media in Denver following a Grizzlies win against the Nuggets
Morant returned to FedEx Forum Monday night after his highly publicized suspension
‘Obviously, I’ve been there for two weeks, but that doesn’t mean I’m completely better. So, that’s an ongoing process for me that I’ve still been continuing since I’ve come out.’
He denied any suggestion he has difficulties handling alcohol amid NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s determination that the 23-year-old was in an ‘intoxicated state’ via the league’s statement.
‘I don’t have an alcohol problem, never had an alcohol problem,’ Morant said. ‘I went [to FL.] for counseling to learn how to manage stress, cope with stress in a positive way instead of ways I’ve tried to deal with it before that caused me to make mistakes.’
Morant apologized once more for the incident in which he flashed a gun at a Denver strip club in the hours following a March 3 loss to the Nuggets.
‘I’m completely sorry for that,’ Morant said after practice.
‘So, you know, my job now is, like I said, to be more responsible, more smarter, and don´t cause any of that no more.’
The former No. 2 overall pick’s last game of pro basketball came against the Nuggets, March 3
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