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Ja Morant, Grizzlies extend win streak to 10 with breakout victory over Warriors

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MEMPHIS — The heavyweight battle between the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors lived up to the hype Tuesday.

The Grizzlies took a 13-point lead near the end of the second quarter. That swung to an eight-point Warriors lead before the halfway point of third.

Both teams kept trading baskets in what was one of the best atmospheres at the FedExForum this season. Ja Morant made back-to-back baskets late, the crowd chanted “MVP” for him and the Grizzlies defeated the NBA-leading Warriors 116-108.

Six Grizzlies scored in double figures. Desmond Bane had an uncharacteristic 3-for-14 shooting night, but rookie Ziaire Williams stepped up to score 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting. Brandon Clarke was strong off the bench with 14 points and nine rebounds.

Williams spent a lot of time guarding Stephen Curry and had success. Curry finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to record a triple-double, but Williams and De’Anthony Melton spent most of the game forcing him into tough shots. Curry shot 8-for-21 overall and 2-for-9 from 3-point range.

“(Ziaire) did a really good job,” Grizzlies acting coach Darko Rajakovic said. “He followed the game plan. Obviously, Steph Curry is an amazing scorer and shooter. He did a really good job of chasing him to get in the 3-point line.”

The win extends Memphis’ win streak to 10 games. The Grizzlies (29-14) are now in a statistical tie with the Utah Jazz (28-13) for third place in the Western Conference, percentage points back. They are 2½ games behind the Warriors (30-10) and 3½ behind the first-place Suns. Memphis moved to 2-1 against Golden State.

The excitement after the game was noticeable. Jaren Jackson Jr. was dancing, Ja Morant was jumping with joy and Rajakovic walked into his postgame presser in a soaked Grizzlies shirt.

“This is what we do, man, we’re just enjoying it,” Jackson said. “We have a forward mentality, but we’re in the present. We get what’s going on right now.”

Here are some observations from Tuesday’s win:

Ja Morant vs. Gary Payton II

Morant had one of his best first quarters of the season when he poured in 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Things got tougher after that, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr matched Gary Payton II on Morant. Like his father was known to do, Payton made Morant work for every point. He started the third quarter and was the main reason the Warriors regained the lead after trailing by 13 points.

Morant had his time to adjust, then the fourth quarter came. As Morant checked in, Payton sprinted down the Warriors’ bench to the scorer’s table. It was game time. Morant got the last laugh as he blew by Payton. When Payton recovered, he stopped suddenly for his patented floater.

“I just like having that pressure,” Morant said. “I feel like that’s when I shine the most. I like to be the one to take that shot, make or miss.”

Morant finished with 29 points on 11-for-23 shooting and added eight assists.

Two point guard lineup wins

Tyus Jones has been playing more with Morant during the Grizzlies’ win streak. That time together built up toward Tuesday’s big moment. Acting head coach Darko Rajakovic opted for a two point guard lineup in the closing moments to add another ball handler on the floor. Jones replaced Ziaire Williiams and shined. He made back-to-back 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter to send FedExForum into pandemonium. He finished with 17 points and made all five of his 3-pointers.

Having Jones become a more aggressive scorer has been one of the underlying reasons why the Grizzlies are surging. Morant and Jones make up one of the league’s best point guard duos.

“We were talking on the bench, Brad Jones and myself, (about) should we play him more in the first half with Ja,” Rajakovic said. “We needed another ball handler on the floor and Tyus did an outstanding job. Offensively he got us organized, but also he did a good job defensively.”

Ja Morant (12), Brandon Clarke (15) and the Grizzlies extended their franchise-record win streak to 10 games.

Ja Morant (12), Brandon Clarke (15) and the Grizzlies extended their franchise-record win streak to 10 games.

Andre Iguodala’s return

It’s been two seasons since Andre Iguodala essentially refused to play in Memphis after being traded to the Grizzlies. The fans didn’t forget.

Iguodala was booed when he checked into the game and every time he touched the ball. When he committed his first foul and complained, it might have been the loudest moment of the first quarter. Iguodala threw an alley-oop to Payton late in the third quarter, where he looked at the fans on his way down the court.

Follow Damichael Cole on Twitter @DamichaelC.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Grizzlies beat Warriors in showdown for 10th straight win



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