Ja Morant’s superstar leap hits new high with 52-point performance

Ja Morant did it again and set a new franchise record with 52 points.

A jump is meant to be a short-lived challenge to gravity, but nothing remotely seems temporary about the jumps Ja Morant makes. Not his dunks, and certainly not his rise to stardom.

Forty-eight hours after setting a Grizzlies franchise record with 46 points, Morant fought back with 52 points and a personal highlight in Memphis’ 118-105 win over the Spurs. He only needed 30 shots, four 3-pointers, four free throws and his usual supply of hops to do it.

The performance punctuated the biggest moment Morant has had this season. He arrived with an eye-catching brand of basketball that rarely goes to a game without inspiring likes, shares and did-you-know-it-is on social media. His suspension time seems limitless, his potential even more.

Morant’s aerial exploits on Monday were borderline Kryptonian, as big men and buzzers were defeated in a single leap. Analytically beloved rim protector Jakob Poeltl was reduced to a poster for Morant’s latest assault on the rim, a one-handed hammer that featured the extra split second of airtime that only the greatest of all time can gather.

Ja Morant prints an amazing poster slam.

It should have been the game of the night. His competitors arrived 139 seconds later.

Steven Adams’ full-court inbound pass for a token late-quarter shot attempt found Morant. The new All-Star didn’t want gravity to bring the ball to him. That’s not what he does. Instead, he jumped up to meet him and, in one motion, grabbed, spun and fired the ball before it landed and the half-time horn sounded. Rustling. Explosion of social networks. Pandemonium in Memphis.

Ja Morant beats the buzzer with a nonsensical attempt to grab and shoot in the air.

As well there should be. Morant is not just a generational talent in general, but specifically the kind that Memphis has never been blessed with. Prior to the 2019 draft, he was widely considered the consolation prize for Zion Williamson, who has played in all 85 games since New Orleans drafted him No. 1. The Grizzlies gladly picked up Morant, even though they couldn’t have foreseen the supernova he became.

In a way, Morant is a long overdue lucky break for the non-championship Grizzlies. Memphis has never owned the first overall pick. One of their closest encounters was in 2003, when their choice was first protege in a draft titled by LeBron James. In that year’s Draft Lottery, Memphis’ envelope was only one of two remaining unopened. Land the No. 1 pick and the Grizzlies land LeBron. Instead, he ran No. 2, and their pick went to the Detroit Pistons, leaving Memphis empty-handed.

Four other times, the Grizzlies have clinched second place in the draft, each time coming away with something less than a franchise-altering result. Mike Bibby. Steve Francois. Stromile Swift. Hashem Thabet.

The Grizzlies overcame such crippling setbacks with the hard-working, blue-collar approach that spawned the Grit ‘n’ Grind era. This culminated in an appearance in the Conference Finals in 2013 and then eventually returned to the lottery.

Then Morant arrived.

The Grizzlies (43-20) are now tied with famed Golden State (43-18) in the win column, with just two more losses tainting their record. It’s a supercharged turnaround, with Morant serving as the nightly jolt of electricity that’s become a TV staple.

Yet despite all the eye-popping career highs, league honors and Kia MVP talk, Morant still managed to make his last night go viral on everyone. The 52 points were his, but the post-game photos were a team thing. He’s not only ready, but he wants to praise and earn the trust of his teammates, whether it’s backing up Desmond Bane’s comments about LeBron James or defending Ziaire Williams’ failure in the dying seconds. of a loss to Philadelphia.

Those moments added to Morant’s teammates urging him to aim for 50 as he closed in on Monday, and why they celebrated it so openly after the final buzzer.

Even when Morant was pulled for the TV interview, he refused to make the moment solely about him, instead making sure his daughter got some screen time and credit as well.

“That’s my baby, my motivation here,” Morant said. “It’s just the right to go down in history on a night when she’s there to watch me.”

Such down-to-earth decisions have made Morant the rare viral megastar who refuses to outdo himself or the city he plays for. He’s not shy about crediting grit and grind with his own rise to the NBA’s elite, and he seems to enjoy making Memphis a hot topic on the NBA map. It’s only further attached itself to a fan base basking in the spotlight and the attention garnered by its first true superstar.

More is to come. After getting his first taste of playoff basketball last season, Morant is looking forward to a full assist. Memphis is in great shape to finish with home-court advantage in the first round, and could take advantage of it for two rounds if they pass Golden State for the second seed.

Despite their youth, the Grizzlies would hardly be welcome against suitors with more established pedigree. Memphis boasts a top-5 offense and top-10 defense, with their entire operation centered around a 22-year-old superstar who only gets better with seasoning.

Better than he was in this show, his most recent? It also seemed unlikely on Saturday.

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