DENVER (AP) — Ja Morant scored 38 points and the Memphis Grizzlies overcame Nikola Jokic’s fourth straight triple-double to beat the Denver Nuggets 122-118 on Friday night.
Morant scored on floaters, runners, fadeaways, 3-pointers, an emphatic alley-oop and driving layups while slicing through a variety of Nuggets defenders. He set a career-high with 23 points in the first half and finished 15 of 26 from the field.
“I was able to get to my spots on the floor, which I excel at,” Morant said. “And once I get to my normal spots, it’s pretty much buckets.”
Morant was six points shy of his career high and also had six rebounds and six assists. Jaren Jackson Jr. added 20 points, including a 3-pointer on a feed from Morant with 41 seconds left after the Nuggets got within 115-111.
“That was the play of the game,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “It was a beautiful pass. He and Jaren have connected on a couple big game-winners this year.”
De’Anthony Melton had 21 points and nine rebounds off the bench as the Grizzlies won for the second time in four games since snapping their 11-game winning streak.
Two days after his 49-point triple-double in an overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, Jokic had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. It was his NBA-best 11th triple-double of the season and 68th of his career.
Will Barton had 27 points and eight assists, but the Nuggets’ bench let them down as the Grizzlies took control early in the fourth quarter.
“At times it felt like they were playing at a different speed than us,” coach Michael Malone said.
Bryn Forbes, acquired by Denver from San Antonio in a three-team trade Wednesday, was the first player off the bench. He immediately hit a 20-footer but hit just 4 of 13 shots and scored nine points.
Malone said Forbes told him “my bad” as they headed to the locker room after the game.
“I think probably because I know I’m better than I played tonight,” Forbes said. “It was kind of frustrating for me, just personally. I think I’ve got a lot more in me than that.”
Forbes and the second unit were on the floor as the Grizzlies scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to go ahead 104-92. When Morant checked back in with 7:18 left, the Grizzlies led 108-96.
About the only thing Morant did wrong was run the length of the floor, grab and hang onto the backboard, and pick up a technical foul after he was called for a foul on Jokic in the third quarter.
“I know there are conversations about him being an All-Star. That’s a for-sure thing,” Jenkins said. “He’s playing at an All-Star level. And I think he’s playing at an MVP level.”
The Grizzlies were 9 of 40 from 3-point range in Wednesday’s loss at Milwaukee. They hit their first five from long range Friday and were 10 of 16 in the first half in building a 13-point lead.
The Nuggets added veteran center DeMarcus Cousins on Friday to a 10-day contract, but he didn’t play after Malone said he was “dealing with a slight, I wouldn’t say injury, but just something where we’ll kind of see how he feels pregame.”
Grizzlies: F Dillon Brooks (left ankle sprain) is still expected to miss about a month after being injured Jan. 8. “The swelling is going down and his mobility is starting to go up a little bit,” Jenkins said. “He hasn’t jumped on the court yet, so the timeline really hasn’t changed.” … F Killian Tillie exited COVID-19 protocols but didn’t play. … Desmond Bane, Kyle Anderson and Tyus Jones (COVID-19 protocols) remained out.
Nuggets: Malone and F Jeff Green picked up second-quarter technical fouls. … G Jamal Murray, who is recovering from knee surgery, was placed in COVID-19 protocols. … With Forbes’ addition, G Austin Rivers was dropped from rotation and didn’t play. … Peyton Manning, who led the Broncos to their last Super Bowl title, sat behind Memphis’ bench.
Malone hopes he can boost the second unit when Jokic is resting.
“I think DeMarcus makes it hard for other teams to say, ‘We’re going to switch from 1 to 5,’” Malone said. “DeMarcus is a very effective low post player, and I hope you realize he’s a hell of a playmaker.”
Grizzles: Visit Dallas on Sunday night in the third stop of a four-game trip.
Nuggets: Conclude their season-long six-game homestand Sunday night vs. Detroit.
By MIKE CRANSTON
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