Ja Morant helps Grizzlies beat Spurs for 4th straight win

Memphis took over defensively in the second half to shut down the San Antonio

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Ja Morant had 30 points, eight assists and six rebounds, leading the Memphis Grizzlies to a 118-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Tyus Jones scored 18, Desmond Bane and Brandon Clarke each had 17 points as Memphis pulled away in the second half. Clarke was 8 of 11 from the field; Jones 7 of 14.

Jakob Poeltl, Derrick White and Bryn Forbes each scored 15 points for the Spurs. White added nine assists, and Tre Jones finished with 13 points, missing only one of his six shots. Keita Bates-Diop had a career-high 11 rebounds.

Memphis finally got a bit of a cushion by outscoring the Spurs 27-18 in the third quarter as San Antonio struggled from 3-point distance and made only one of its 10 long-range attempts. That helped Memphis carry a 90-79 lead into the fourth. Memphis extended the lead to 19 points on the way to its fourth straight victory.

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San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) defends against Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. 

San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) defends against Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn.  (AP Photo/Nikki Boertman)

"Really kind of a competitive game. We were able to break it open there in the third (quarter) and held them to 18 points," Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said.

The Spurs, whose last game, against Miami, was postponed on Wednesday due a lack of available Heat players, weathered a quick start by Memphis before the game settled into a tightly played first half. Shooting was under 48% for both teams, but Morant was 8 of 11 for 20 points. Memphis carried a 63-61 lead into the break.

But the second half was problematic for the Spurs. Memphis changed its defensive coverages, taking away some of San Antonio’s comfort on offense. The result was more Spurs turnovers and their struggles shooting.

"Our guys did a phenomenal job of executing it," Jenkins said. "Created turnovers, missed shots. Kind of changed the rhythm the Spurs had."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noted that his team got sloppy in the third quarter, leading to five turnovers that resulted in Memphis getting out in transition.

"That really set the tone for the second half," Popovich said.

"They come ready to play," the San Antonio coach said of the Grizzlies. "They believe in what they are doing and believe they are one of the better teams in the league. And it shows."

White added: "They get after it defensively and are physical and then offensively they push you, find the open man, move the ball well. That’s a good team and something that we can learn from. We want to get to where they are at. Just keep building."

HEAD COACH HAMMON

Before the game, the Spurs and Las Vegas announced the hiring of assistant coach Becky Hammon as the new head coach of the WNBA's Aces. "I think it is great for her. It’s a great opportunity," Popovich said of the hiring. He noted that Hammon will stay with San Antonio through the end of the NBA season. "She’s certainly capable, and I think she’ll prove that in Vegas. They’ve got a helluva coach coming their way."

TIP-INS

Spurs: White took a blow to the head from an inadvertent elbow by Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson early in the second quarter, causing a cut over his left eye. He went to the locker room before halftime, got four stitches and returned in the second half. "I got a weak eyebrow, so it is what it is," White said. … Veteran F Thaddeus Young played after not appearing in the previous six games.

Grizzlies: Before the game, Memphis had nine players on the injury list, six under health and safety protocols, including starter Dillon Brooks. Of the other three, rookie Santi Aldama, who was sidelined seven games with right calf and right ankle soreness, was available. … The game marked the first time in franchise history that the team has played at home on New Year’s Eve. … Jaren Jackson Jr. had a season-high 11 rebounds.

UP NEXT:

Spurs: At Detroit on Saturday.

Grizzlies: At Brooklyn to face the Nets on Monday.