Then the All-Star guard took over the game’s final two minutes.
Morant scored the last 13 points for Memphis, and his layup with a second left capped the Grizzlies’ big rally from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to edge the Minnesota Timberwolves 111-109 on Tuesday night and grab a 3-2 lead in their first-round Western Conference series.
“Go get a bucket. Ja,” Morant said of the game-winning play.
Morant, named the NBA’s most improved player on Monday, struggled mightily much of the game. But he turned it on in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points — including 9 of 10 at the free-throw line. His lone 3 of the game came with 1:03 left, giving Memphis its first lead since the first quarter.
“Obviously, he had a brilliant fourth quarter,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said.
The Grizzlies point guard came from the low post as the Grizzlies inbounded the ball with 3.7 seconds left and lost Anthony Edwards at the top of the key. That left him an open lane into the paint he’s so rarely had in this series, beating Jarred Vanderbilt with his left hand on an underhanded layup.
Edwards said he wanted to try to steal the ball.
“Dumb mistake,” Edwards said.
Game 6 is Friday night back in Minnesota with the Wolves now trying to force a seventh game Sunday back in Memphis.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Towns said. “You feel like you got it after all the mistakes made and everything like that. We hit a big 3 to tie the game up with 4 seconds (left). You feel good. You feel good about going into overtime and having a chance to win the game. Just a learning experience.”
The Timberwolves led 99-88 with 6:58 left after three free throws by Towns, and Jackson fouling out for a second straight game. The Grizzlies responded with a 10-0 run to set up a thrilling finish to what had been an ugly, poor-shooting game, and outscored Minnesota 37-24 in the fourth.
Edwards tied it up at 109 for Minnesota with a 3 with 3.7 seconds left. That set up Morant for the final drive to the basket for the game-winner to start the celebration.
Clarke said he told Morant during the hug he thanked God the Grizzlies have him on their team.
“Thank God that you’re as good as you are because we had just fought so hard,” Clarke said. “And hit a really tough 3. And I was just like, it’s fine, though, because we got 12 and we got a player that can make a really, really big-time finish. And I was like, ‘Yeah, thank God that we got you, man.’”
Jenkins was fined $15,000 Monday for criticizing the officiating after Game 4, a 119-118 win by Minnesota. On Tuesday, his Grizzlies got to the free-throw line more than Minnesota — they just didn’t shoot well once there, making 26 of 39 compared to Minnesota’s 21 of 24.
The Grizzlies opened the game on a 13-2 run and looked liked the team that earned the highest seed in franchise history.
Then Jackson got his second foul on Patrick Beverley’s 3 and went to the bench. The Timberwolves, the NBA’s best 3-point shooting team in the regular season, started knocking down shots, going 7 of 11 outside the arc and leading 31-28 at the end of the first quarter.
Minnesota was up 55-53 at halftime, then outscored Memphis 30-21 in the third. But Morant capped the quarter with a windmill dunk that helped give the Grizzlies some much-needed energy.
Timberwolves: Russell came in 17 of 55 overall and 9 of 24 from beyond the arc in this series. He knocked down his first two shots Tuesday, a pair of back-to-back 3s, and finished 2 of 4 from 3 and 4 of 10 from the floor. … Beverley had their first four-point play in the postseason at 8:14 of the first quarter.
Grizzlies: Memphis outrebounded Minnesota 53-42, including 18-6 on the offensive glass. That led to 23 second-chance points for the Grizzlies. Bane got a technical in the second quarter for shoving Timberwolves coach Chris Finch. Bane also opened the game with his 20th 3-point in this series. … Ziaire Williams played four minutes and did not finish the game with a sore right knee.
ON THE BOARDS
Memphis outrebounded Minnesota 53-42, including 18-6 on the offensive glass. That led to 23 second-chance points for the Grizzlies. Clarke had 15 rebounds, nine offensive.
“He’s always in the right spot at the right time,” Towns said of Clarke. “You go up for a block, and he magically around right at the exact spot where the ball is coming off.”
IN THE CROWD
Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph were former Grizzlies in attendance along with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Kentucky coach John Calipari sat near the Timberwolves’ bench. Alex Rodriguez, a Minnesota co-owner, also was in attendance, and Usher was on hand as well sitting next to Morant’s father Tee.