ATLANTA — On a scale of 1 to 10, Ja Morant was quick to give his grade on how his first three games with the Memphis Grizzlies went this season.
“A 10,” he said. “We won. This is what we aim for, this is what we play for.
Morant had 30 points and 11 assists as Memphis improved to 3-0 since returning with a 125-119 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.
Desmond Bane had 37 points for the Grizzlies, who hadn’t won three straight games all season while stumbling to a 6-19 start as Morant served a 25-game suspension for repeatedly brandishing a gun on social media. Bane also had seven rebounds and six assists.
“There’s definitely more spirit when you win games,” Bane said. “It’s just natural. We feel really good about where we are and we have more players coming back to continue.
– Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 24, 2023
Trae Young made history in the loss, finishing with 30 points and 13 assists. It was his seventh straight game with at least 30 points and 10 assists, tying Oscar Robertson for the longest such streak in NBA history. Robertson set the record from December 1964 to January 1965. The Hawks were 3-4 in those seven games.
Jaren Jackson Jr. had 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting for Memphis.
The Grizzlies’ decisive run came after the game was tied at 106. Memphis scored nine straight points, with Morant capping the drive with a floater over Young in the lane with 3:37 left. The Hawks never got closer than four after that.
Morant’s offensive brilliance was on full display as he scored from the lane, the wings, 3-point range and above the rim with two dunks. He found his teammates cutting when the Hawks sent him help and helped the Grizzlies shoot over 50 percent for the third time since his return. It’s a first this season for Memphis, who made 29 assists.
“I’ve been here before, so I know what type of team we can have and what type of noise we can make in this league,” Morant said. “We didn’t start the way we wanted to, but we are where we need to be. We are hungry and people doubt us. That’s when we are at our best.
The Grizzlies allowed 17 second chance points in the first half, but only four after halftime.
“We were down 10 at halftime and I told the team we were guarding pretty well. It was just second chance points,” coach Taylor Jenkins said. “There was a better engagement there, a better level of physicality.”
The Hawks closed the first half with a score of 9-3 to take a 60-50 lead going into the break. Atlanta didn’t trail for the final 20:32 of the first half after taking an 11-10 lead. In the third quarter, however, the Grizzlies closed the gap with a 10-0 run to start the period.
Hawks starting forward De’Andre Hunter missed his second straight game with knee soreness.
Grizzlies: Visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday in the second game of a four-game road trip.
Hawks: At Chicago Bulls on Tuesday.