Nuggets fall to Grizzlies 122-118 in hard-fought battle

Ja Morant couldn't be stopped on Friday night. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Ja Morant couldn't be stopped on Friday night. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

Ja Morant had a field day at Ball Arena on Friday night. He torched the Nuggets with 38 points on 15-26 shooting from the field and he made it look so easy. De’Anthony Melton added 21 points off the bench and Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 20 in the Memphis Grizzlies’ 122-118 win.

The Nuggets came back from being down by as much as 13 points and took a 6-point lead late in the third but found themselves climbing out of another hole in the fourth as Memphis took a 14-point lead. It looked like the game could swing in Denver’s favor after Aaron Gordon hit two big buckets down the stretch but the Grizzlies had too much fire power.

“Key stretch, once again we’ve seen this movie before,” Michael Malone said. “We’re playing well in that third quarter and then all the sudden I think it was a 15-4 run to close and then they start 6-0 and then we’re looking at a 21-4 run by Memphis. We make a valiant effort to try to get back into the game and make plays but just too little too late. They beat us on the glass by 11. The paint defense, the transition defense we just have to try to be better.”

Nikola Jokic put up a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists while Will Barton scored 27 points, had five rebounds and eight assists. All five starters scored at least 15 points or more. It was the bench that really struggled to get things going. Memphis’ bench unit scored 35 points and shot 10-21 from the field. Meanwhile Denver’s only scored 17 points on 5-21 shooting from the field.

“It was our inability to score and turn the ball over that fueled their break and obviously you look at the plus minus off the bench and it’s not where you’d want it to be,” Malone said. “None of those guys out there are trying to miss shots. I thought they played hard. It just didn’t go our way. I think we had 15 bench points in the first half and then we had two in the second half and those were shots that they made late. So obviously that’s part of the inconsistency at times.”

Forbes took responsibility for not playing his best and apologized to Malone even though it was his first game with the team.

“I know I’m better than I played tonight and it’s kinda of frustrating for me personally,” Forbes said. “I know I got a lot more in me.”

The Grizzlies shot the lights out in the first quarter going 14-22 from the field and 7-8 from beyond the arc. They lead the league in points in the paint and outscored the Nuggets 14-8 in that range.

Denver still kept the game within reach and only trailed by three late in the quarter. Barton scored eight points and Bryn Forbes, who was playing in his first game as a Nugget after being traded from the Spurs, put up seven points off the bench. But Memphis closed it out hitting back-to-back 3s to take a 37-28 lead.

The Nuggets went on an 8-0 run within the first minute of the second quarter to make it a one point game. The Grizzlies responded with a 17-7 run of their own to go up 53-42 with 6:40 left. Morant had another big quarter scoring 11 of his 23 first half points to give Memphis a 13-point lead. Malone had to put his starters back in to get Denver back into the game. Jokic and Monte Morris put up eight points each to spark a 13-5 run to close out the first half. Still, the Grizzlies had a 68-63 lead.

Morant continued to be a force in the third quarter. He hit Denver with some crafty moves to the cup to give Memphis the 72-65 lead but the Nuggets went on an 8-0 run to go up 73-72 with 9:37 left in the third. The Nuggets took as much as a 6-point lead with 6:50 left. De’Anthony Melton then scored ten straight points for the Grizzlies to tie it back up at 91. Morant followed it up with six straight points to ignite a 16-4 Memphis run to close the third and take a 98-92 lead.

Memphis opened the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run and a 19-3 run since 4:09 left in the third quarter. They took a 14-point lead and then went stagnant on offense midway through the final quarter and didn’t score for almost four minutes. The Nuggets only managed to cut the deficit to nine during that time and also went scoreless for over two minutes. Finally, Denver went on a 10-1 run after Aaron Gordon knocked down a 3 and a 2-pointer to get within four points.

It was 115-111 Memphis lead with one minute left in regulation and then Jackson Jr. hit a clutch 3 to extend the lead to seven. It was too late for the Nuggets to come back at that point and sealed the 122-118 win for the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies are now 3-0 against the Nuggets this season and won their first game at Ball Arena since 2017. They’re third in the Western Conference standings with a 32-16 record. The Nuggets are 23-21 and in sixth.

Denver has one more home game on Sunday against the Pistons before hitting the road for six straight. This will be their last long stretch on the road for the rest of the season.

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