Ja Morant had 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, Tyus Jones added 17 points and the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Denver Nuggets 106-97 on Monday night.
Xavier Tillman had 12 points, while Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. finished with 11 each as Memphis snapped a three-game losing streak to the Nuggets.
Jones and Tillman were part of a Grizzlies bench that outscored Nuggets reserves 43-34 and kept Memphis in front most of the way. Denver never led by more than two points, and there were six ties.
“We said all along, if our bench is clicking defensively and offensively, that just creates great balance for our team,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “That leads to a lot of success for us.”
Nikola Jokic led Denver with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while Aaron Gordon added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Monte Morris scored 11 but was 5 of 12 from the field — part of the Nuggets shooting 44% for the game.
Denver’s major problems came from outside the arc where it went 9 of 38 for 24%.
“Of course, that’s their defense, too,” Jokic said. “But we missed a couple of open shots. We didn’t rebound enough. We had a couple of turnovers. It is what it is.”
The teams face each other again Wednesday night in Memphis.
The Grizzlies, who held an 82-73 lead entering the fourth quarter, were able to hold Denver at bay as the Nuggets tried to muster a rally. At one point, Kyle Anderson made three straight baskets to help Memphis maintain a double-digit lead. Jones hit a pair of 3-pointers earlier in the period as the Grizzlies led by at least nine over the final 11 minutes.
Jones connected on five 3s, part of Memphis going 13 of 34 from outside the arc.
“It’s going to open things up on the offensive end for me,” Jones said of his long-range accuracy. “At the same time, we’ve got a lot of guys who can create and play-make. So, it’s just another way to help out the offense.”
Jokic characterized Jones’ 3-point shooting as “a game-changer” in bolstering the Grizzlies’ second unit. But he also noted that Memphis outscored the Nuggets in the paint 58-40, some of that from Morant’s zigzagging, stop-and-start moves to the basket.
“Ja is a really good player, of course,” Jokic said, adding: “Mainly, it is Ja’s ability to get in the middle of the paint and all those kinds of (shots). We say we can live with that, but he’s really good at that.”
In the fourth quarter, Jenkins played both Jones and Morant for much of the period, providing the Grizzlies with more stability to hold off Denver.
“Me and Tyus have been talking about (playing together) for three years,” Morant said. “I definitely love it. We play with a way better pace. I don’t have to be on the ball with Tyus being such a good creator on the floor for everybody.”
Nuggets: Allowed an opponent to reach 100 points for only the second time this season. The only other team to pass the century mark was Utah in a 122-110 Jazz victory. … Gordon left in the third quarter with a right eye injury. He returned in the fourth.
Grizzlies: Morant got his 1,000th career assist with his first of the game early in the first quarter. … Jones’ five 3-pointers tied a career high in a regular-season game.
There’s no doubt the Nuggets’ game depends heavily on Jokic, no matter how coach Michael Malone mixes his lineup with starters and reserves. “I think our plus-minus with Nikola on the floor is spectacular,” Malone said in his pregame media session. “And I don’t want to talk about what it is when he’s off the floor.”
MORANT’S SORE ELBOW
Morant was added to the injury report Monday afternoon with a sore right elbow but started. Jenkins said Morant hurt the elbow when he fell in the Miami game Saturday. Asked whether the soreness bothered him during the game, Morant replied: “How much points did I have today?” When told it was 26, he replied: “There you go. Tonight, I don’t know. But during the game it was good.”
The teams play the second of a two-game set Wednesday in Memphis.