By TERESA M. WALKER
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies keep proving that no deficit is too deep to claw their way back to victory.
And Ja Morant is getting tired of playing from behind, no matter how good the wins feel. He wants to see the Grizzlies start like they did in their easiest win of this series in Game 2.
“Not give them too much life,” Morant said. “Go ahead and come out and play hard. Play with energy. Start early. Last three games, we haven’t played our basketball. Weren’t knocking down shots, but we battled. Me personally, I’m giving it my all. Ready to lay down.”
The NBA’s Most Improved Player scored 18 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, including the final 13 for Memphis, in rallying the Grizzlies from a 13-point deficit with 9:38 left. Morant’s final bucket, a layup with a second left, lifted Memphis to a 111-109 victory and a 3-2 lead in their first-round Western Conference series.
This deficit was half the 26-point shortfall Memphis clawed its way back from, not counting the 25-point deficit late in the third, in winning Game 3. That tied the Grizzlies’ franchise record for the biggest comeback victory.
According to ESPN, that makes Memphis the first NBA team ever to post multiple comeback wins after trailing by double-digits going into the fourth quarter in a single playoff series. The Miami Heat in 2020 were the only other team that managed to rally from double-digit deficits in the fourth quarter twice in a single postseason.
Bane says there’s no quit in these Grizzlies.
“We’re at our home arena down, down late,” Bane said. “Their players talking about ‘Oh, they’re about to fold, about to fold.’ I knew that wasn’t the case, and we just kept chipping away, kept trusting and what we do got some stops and was able to make some shots down the stretch.”
Minnesota led 99-88 only to be outscored 23-10 over the final 6:43, and Memphis outscored the Timberwolves 34-27 in the final quarter. The Grizzlies also outrebounded the Wolves 18-10 in the fourth, and 10 offensive rebounds led to a 12-0 edge in second-chance points.
The biggest was Brandon Clarke tipping a missed 3 from Tyus Jones out where Morant snagged it before knocking down his lone 3 of the game. That gave Memphis its first lead since the first quarter.
The Wolves missed 4 of 14 at one stretch in the fourth, part of an ugly shooting night where Memphis clanked dunks and missed wide-open 3-pointers. Morant, the 2020 NBA Rookie of the Year, was 9 of 22 for the game, and Dillon Brooks was 3 of 18 — 1 of 10 from 3 with his lone make coming in the fourth quarter.
These are two of the NBA’s youngest teams this season, and that youth and inexperience in the intense pressure of the postseason certainly has played a part in this series. Minnesota easily can look at the stats and be convinced this is a series the Wolves should clinch.
Instead, Memphis takes a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on Friday night looking to clinch its first series since 2015.
“No doubt about it, but all credit to Memphis,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said. “They hang strong, they don’t beat themselves, and we got to do a better job of making little plays when it matters most.”