Ja Morant produced a virtuoso 52-point performance as the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the San Antonio Spurs 118-105 in the NBA’s Western Conference clash on Monday.
Morant made 22 of 30 shots from the field in a magical display for Memphis, two days after scoring 46 points in a win over Chicago.
Morant’s career-high masterpiece included two dazzling season highlights — starting with an astonishing dunk over the Spurs’ Austrian player Jakob Poeltl.
He then topped that on the stroke of halftime with a gravity-defying fadeaway jump shot after plucking a length-of-the-court pass from Steven Adams out of the air.
“I’m thankful for my teammates, my coaches,” Morant said.
“They believe in me and have all the confidence in the world that I’ll make the right plays.”
The win leaves Memphis in third in the Western Conference with 43 wins and 20 defeats, trailing the Golden State Warriors (43-18) and the leading Phoenix Suns (49-12).
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich meanwhile saluted Morant as a “beautiful player.”
“What else can you say about him? It’s not just that he’s athletic…he knows what is going on on the court,” Popovich said.
“So, you combine that cerebral part of his game with his athleticism and you’ve got a special kid.”
Elsewhere on Monday, the Miami Heat shut down DeMar DeRozan to rout the Chicago Bulls 112-99 in their top-of-the-table Eastern Conference clash.
Gabe Vincent and Tyler Herro scored 20 points apiece while Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo each had 15 points as Miami’s balanced offense completed a convincing victory.
But Miami’s hard-nosed defensive display also played a huge role in the win, with the Heat ending DeRozan’s remarkable run of 10 consecutive games with 30 points or more.
DeRozan was held to 18 points and was never allowed to settle into his rhythm by a rampant Miami, who improved to 41-21 at the top of the conference standings. The Bulls remain in second at 39-23.
“We set multiple things for him — we blitzed him, we tried to give him everything we had and make him uncomfortable,” Vincent said of Miami’s defense of DeRozan.
“He made some shots despite it, but we came out with the win.”
The emphatic victory kicks off a challenging run of games for Miami, who play the NBA champions Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday either side of a road game against the struggling Brooklyn Nets.
“This means a lot – we’re playing a lot of tough teams this week,” Vincent added. “We wanted to set the tone for the week we want to have.”
Zach LaVine led the scoring for Chicago with 22 points while DeRozan and Ayo Dosunmu both had 18 points each. Nikola Vucevic was held to 14 points.
Save for a brief spell early in the first quarter, Miami led throughout and after erupting in the third quarter – outscoring Chicago 36-21 – had taken a 24-point lead to effectively settle the contest.
In other games on Monday, Brooklyn were brought back to earth following Saturday’s upset of the Bucks after being thrashed 133-97 by the Toronto Raptors.
Scottie Barnes had 28 points and 16 rebounds with four assists for Toronto while Precious Achiuwa had 20 off the bench.
Barnes made his first 11 shots in a red-hot shooting display for the Raptors.
The depleted Nets, without the injured Kevin Durant and the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving, trailed by 39 points at one stage in the fourth quarter as Toronto cut loose.
The Bucks meanwhile got back to winning ways with a 130-106 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the scoring for Milwaukee with 26 points while Jrue Holiday added 21 and Bobby Portis 20.