The Memphis Grizzlies learned about an hour before tipoff they wouldn’t have their two-time All-Star point guard, with Ja Morant’s bruised right hand aching too much to take the court.
They gave their teammate more time to heal.
Xavier Tillman scored a career-high 22 points and had 13 rebounds, and the Grizzlies tied their first-round Western Conference series at 1-1 Wednesday night by beating the Los Angeles Lakers 103-93.
“Obviously, this is a big win for us,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “You know, great performance from him (Tillman), other guys as well.”
No. 2 seed Memphis sat Morant after he tested the right hand originally hurt April 7 in a win at Milwaukee and aggravated driving to the basket in the opening loss to the Lakers. He had more exams on the hand before being declared inactive and watched from the bench with his hand bandaged.
Jenkins called the move a “collective decision” as the Grizzlies hope Morant continues the improvement he’s shown the past couple days and will be back sooner than later. Jenkins wouldn’t guarantee when that will be. Game 3 is Saturday in Los Angeles.
“Hopefully over the next couple of days, there’s more significant improvement,” Jenkins said.
Morant’s teammates made sure Memphis didn’t miss him.
The Grizzlies led by as much as 20 and had fans waving their towels chanting “Whoop That Trick” with 30 seconds left with this series guaranteed a return to Memphis for Game 5. The Grizzlies were able to dribble out the final seconds for the win.
Jones credited Tillman, a third-year player from Michigan State, with bringing a needed dynamic when he plays as he did. The Grizzlies don’t have centre Steven Adams nor key reserve Brandon Clarke this series because of injuries.
“He was big time for us tonight and a big reason why we got the win,” guard Tyus Jones said.
Jaren Jackson Jr., the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, scored 18 points for Memphis. Desmond Bane had 17, while Jones had 10 points and eight assists after having an hour’s notice he would start for Morant.
But LeBron James noted that Jones has led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio for five straight seasons, the longest such streak in NBA history. Memphis gave him starter money last summer to stick around for his seventh season.
“They’re just as dangerous a team when Tyus is starting,” James said. “They don’t miss a beat, and we knew that. No matter if Ja’s in the game. If Ja’s starting, dangerous. If Tyus is starting, dangerous. It didn’t change our approach.”
James led the Lakers with 28 points and 12 rebounds, his 103rd career playoff game with 20 points and 10 rebounds. He tied Tim Duncan for fourth-most all-time. Only Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stand ahead of him.
Reserve Rui Hachimura had another strong performance with 20 points. Anthony Davis struggled mightily after posting a double-double in the opener, going 4 of 14 and finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds.
The Lakers, winners of 11 of their previous 13, had a four-game winning streak snapped. Now they head home after never leading by more than three, and that came on the first points of the game.
Los Angeles had five of their 10 turnovers in the first quarter, and Memphis turned those into 10 points to take control with a 22-8 run. That included back to-back 3s in the span of 10 seconds from rookie David Roddy, then Kennard, who also drew a foul for a four-point play.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham said their on-ball individual defence has to be better against a physical defensive team.
“That throws everyone’s rhythm off,” Ham said of the turnovers.
With Bane scoring 10 points, Memphis led 30-19 after the first. Jackson made his first 3 with 58 seconds left, and the Grizzlies went into the half up 59-44 after outscoring the Lakers 29-25 in the second.
Hachimura scored 11 in the third and helped the Lakers trim a Memphis lead that reached 66-46 to 73-67. The Grizzlies finished the quarter on a 10-4 run to push the lead to 83-71 going into the fourth.
The Lakers never got closer than 94-88 in the final quarter on a James’ layup with 3:10 remaining. Memphis scored five straight to push it back to double digits.
Lakers: They wound up outrebounded 49-47, though they matched Memphis’ scoring in the paint at 50 apiece despite being outscored there 38-20 in the first half. ... Austin Reaves had 12 points after having 23 in the opener. He was 5 of 12 in this game. ... D’Angelo Russell had five points, shooting 5 of 11 after having 19 in Game 1.
Grizzlies: Jackson was presented his trophy as the NBA Defensive Player of the Year before tipoff. ... Injuries now have kept Morant out of four of the Grizzlies’ last five playoff games, dating back to last year’s conference semi-finals.
Tillman had more points in the first quarter than he managed in all of the opening loss. He made his first six shots before missing his seventh, a 3 trying to beat the buzzer that hit off the right rim. He finished with a season high in rebounds.
Reserve John Konchar had his moment too, going way up to block all ball on a shot by Davis in the second quarter.