Grizzlies’ Ja Morant takes over in fourth quarter, hits game-winner to beat T’wolves for 3-2 lead


MEMPHIS — The phone was ringing and Ja Morant answered the call.

Game 5 of the Memphis Grizzlies’ first-round playoff series Tuesday was tied when Morant drove into the basket and extended a left-handed layup over the Minnesota Timberwolves defense with one second remaining.

He then raised his hand to his ear, as if to mimic a phone call, as the Grizzlies defeated the Timberwolves 111-109 at FedExForum to take a 3-2 series lead. The Grizzlies can clinch the series victory in Game 6 on Friday in Minneapolis.

Before the winning layup, Morant had been searching for a 3-pointer. He missed his first 3, then the ball found his hands when the Grizzlies needed it most.

Tyus Jones missed a 3-pointer and Brandon Clarke tipped the ball over Timberwolves defenders to Morant’s hands.

Morant calmly took a step back and nailed a 3-pointer with 8.1 seconds to play to give the Grizzlies their first lead since 50 seconds left in the first quarter.

Morant made two free throws before Anthony Edwards tied the game on a 3-pointer, setting the stage for Morant’s final heroics.

The Grizzlies All-Star point guard struggled before bursting out with 18 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter.

Here are three key observations from Game 5:

Rotation changes and Jackson’s foul trouble

The Grizzlies kept Xavier Tillman Sr. in the starting lineup for the second consecutive game, but they made rotation adjustments. John Konchar replaced a struggling De’Anthony Melton and played three first-half minutes. Jaren Jackson Jr. was foul in foul trouble again, but starting Tillman allowed Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins to turn to Clarke when he pulled Jackson. Clarke had 12 first-half points while playing more than twice as many minutes as Jackson.

Jackson led the Grizzlies with a +4 plus-minus in the first half, but he only played eight minutes. He fouled out midway through the fourth quarter and played 18 minutes.

Ja Morant drives for the winning layup to beat the Timberwolves.

Intensity rises in Game 5

Game 5 played out how many people expected. There was trash-talking, fun banter, technical fouls and referee commentary. Patrick Beverley was dribbling near the Grizzlies bench when Morant reached and was called for a foul. Beverley then began walking away talking loudly, which drew a laugh from Jenkins. Beverley later picked up his third foul, and Morant wasted little time letting him know by holding up three fingers as Beverley walked to the bench. While Desmond Bane attempted to inbound the ball, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch was standing in Bane’s spot, so the Grizzlies shooting guard was called for a technical foul for shoving him.

Late in the fourth quarter, Beverley went at Morant and nailed a short floater over him before going up the court with his hand lowered to the ground, signaling that Morant was too small. Morant then answered by scoring a short floater over D’Angelo Russell on the next possession before doing the same gesture.

Grizzlies overcome shooting problems

Through three quarters, Karl Anthony-Towns (3) and the Grizzlies (3) had the same number of 3-pointers. Memphis struggled shooting 3-pointers while Minnesota, the No. 1 1 team in 3-pointers made this season, lived up to its billing. The Timberwolves ran Bane off the 3-point line and forced him to do most of his damage inside the arc.

It wasn’t just 3-pointers. Morant missed his first three free throws of the game and had a relieved look on his face when making the fourth. Memphis left a lot of points at the free-throw line.

The Grizzlies overcame the shooting issues as Morant, Clarke and Bane combined to score 76 points.

Follow Damichael Cole on Twitter @DamichaelC.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Ja Morant, Grizzlies beat Timberwolves in Game 5 to take 3-2 lead





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