Not that Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant needed a reminder, but the trappings of superstardom include the responsibility of a heavy workload.
Morant recorded game highs of 34 points and nine assists to lift Memphis to a 115-112 overtime win over the New York Knicks in Wednesday’s opener, doing so over 38 high-intensity minutes.
He was one of four players to log at least 38 minutes in the back-and-forth affair, a surprisingly heavy start to the 82-game schedule that continues Friday against the host Houston Rockets.
“I’m definitely tired,” Morant said. “First game, 38 minutes, it’s tough. But that’s why I’ve got my teammates. It’s a team game, it’s not just me out there. A lot of guys stepped up and put us in a position to win.”
Morant led five Grizzlies in double figures and got a critical assist in the extra period from reserve guard Tyus Jones, who produced 15 points, four rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes.
Also central to the victory was the contribution of forward Santi Aldama, who joined the starting lineup with Jaren Jackson Jr. (foot) sidelined for the foreseeable future. Aldama followed a breakout preseason with 18 points and 11 rebounds in 39 minutes.
He drilled three 3-pointers, grabbed two offensive boards and provided Memphis with much-needed secondary scoring with Dillon Brooks (thigh) and Ziaire Williams (knee) joining Jackson on the bench.
“I think it’s huge,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of Aldama. “I’ve used the word confidence and I think it feeds more into that, but I think it just continues to give him more of an individual game plan where he can make an impact on the game. The 3-point shooting, his spacing was really good, I thought his defensive activity and rebounding and taking on (Knicks forward Julius) Randle — that’s a really tough matchup.
“It’s just identifying where are my strengths and how can I continue to grow those one game at a time.”
The Rockets are among a handful of NBA franchises in the throes of a protracted rebuild, a situation that places a greater emphasis on roster development than victories. Houston dropped its season opener on Wednesday to the Atlanta Hawks, 117-107, doing so while displaying an equal measure of moxie and miscues.
Excluding veteran guard Eric Gordon, the Rockets’ 10-man rotation in Atlanta featured a collection of early-to-mid 20-somethings.
Houston trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half but sliced that deficit to six points multiple times in the final minutes of the game. Mistakes, namely 16 turnovers that the Hawks turned into 28 points plus allowing 28 fast-break points, proved costly, but the Rockets showcased an admirable vigor in their opener.
“Multiple times where I sat down and told my assistants, ‘Man, we’re just so young,'” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “Yeah, we made some uncharacteristic turnovers that led to, obviously, 28 points for them. Also, this is our fifth game together so we were disjointed a little bit.
“But I loved our fight. I loved our competitiveness. I’m encouraged, even though we lost.”
–Field Level Media