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Ja Morant returns from suspension with Memphis crowd behind him

Admittedly nervous, Memphis' All-Star guard gets unwavering support from the home crowd in his return from an 8-game suspension.

Ja Morant comes off the bench and scores 17 points with 5 assists in his return to action after 8 games away from the team.

MEMPHIS — Ja Morant explained that “actions speak louder than words” on his journey to redemption after serving an eight-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the NBA.

The sellout crowd of 17,794 at FedExForum demonstrated precisely how that’s done by showering the superstar with an outpouring of support during Memphis’ 130-125 win against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, just a day after the guard expressed trepidation regarding a potential cold reception from the home crowd.

“Before the game, I did some meditation basically to ease the nerves and emotions I was feeling coming back,” Morant said. “Then, once I got out there on the court, just seeing how the fans reacted to me being back definitely made me feel good inside. I can’t put it into words. I’m kind of numb right now, but thankful for everybody.”

Morant played 24 minutes, contributing 17 points on 6-for-13 from the field with five assists, and a rim-rocking highlight dunk early in his return.

As the blue and yellow streamers spiraled down from the ceiling onto the cheering crowd after the final buzzer, Morant hugged the visiting Rockets with an extra bounce in his gait and a smile stretched across his face.

Finally, he was back. The fanbase let him know it, too. Often, and loudly.

Ja Morant: 'Love the organization for their continued support'

Morant rejoined the Grizzlies off his suspension Monday and sat with the team on the bench for a 112-108 win against Dallas. He admitted to feeling “uncomfortable” back at FedExForum during that game, and divulged Tuesday that “I kind of feel the same right now.”

The fans packed inside the arena assuaged that uneasiness as soon as pregame warmups, only to whip up to crescendo once Morant crouched near the scorer’s table late in the first quarter to enter the contest.  The two-time All-Star checked into the game with 3:05 left in the opening frame, and as he slid down the black mask he’s been wearing to protect a previous nasal fracture, the home crowd stood to its feet and erupted into a rousing ovation.

Those plaudits would only continue throughout the night.

Forty-five seconds into his first stint, Morant floated a perfect lob for Jaren Jackson Jr. to slam home. Thirty-one seconds after that, the Grizzlies point guard logged his first block. Morant played 10 minutes in the first half, tallying eight points on 3-for-7 shooting with four assists, two rebounds and a steal.

“Phenomenal reception as he was walking to the scorer’s table,” said Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins. “[I was] really excited for him, really excited for our fans to welcome him back. I thought he was great tonight. This is just a part of the process to get him back with the group. I thought he played with a lot of great energy, played with pace. We’ve talked about being that guy that can go score but can also set up your teammates. [He had] five assists, [in] lower minutes than normal.”

Ja Morant posterizes the defender plus the foul as he continues to impress in his return to action

With Ja’s father, Tee Morant, sitting courtside wearing a black bucket hat and a hooded sweatshirt featuring a picture of his son on the front with “REDEMPTION” emblazoned below, the Grizzlies guard likely heard the small smattering of “We love you, Ja!” screams early on that morphed into a deafening roar once Grizzlies PA announcer Marcus A. Tucker finally introduced the fourth-year veteran, who was coming off the bench for the first time in his NBA career.

Conscientious of the groove Memphis caught in winning six of nine games during his absence, Morant presented the idea of returning to action as a reserve, suggesting the move “because of how well they’ve been playing,” he said. Morant also believes the Grizzlies roster features two starting-caliber point guards in himself and Tyus Jones.

So, Morant looked to avoid disrupting the squad’s chemistry.

“He’s 23 years old, but he’s kind of an older soul,” teammate Desmond Bane said during Wednesday’s morning shootaround. “You see his dad and his mom — good backbones — and people that are in his corner and really [have] his back. So, I think that he’s equipped to handle all of this. He’s got to know that it’s not all on him. He’s got all of us to lean on: players, coaches, the whole organization has got his back. I hope the whole city of Memphis does, too.”

“Grind City” didn’t disappoint in that area, showcasing unwavering support for its franchise point guard when he appeared to need it most.

Typically gregarious with a big laugh and a disposition that lights up rooms, Morant seemed quieter than normal and subdued Wednesday during the team’s morning shootaround, perhaps unsure of how he might fare in his return, and understandably skittish about how the home fans would receive him after such a controversial mishap.

Even before the NBA suspension in response to Morant’s live streaming of a video on March 4 in which he’s waving a handgun in Colorado, the guard sensed his “stress level [had] been becoming a problem,” and considered seeking counseling sooner, but was “pretty much kind of afraid to leave the team.” Now that he’s spent 11 days in a Florida counseling facility as the first steps to what Morant expects to be an ongoing process, the point guard can now earnestly credit Memphis’ rabid fanbase for this latest display of support during tough times.

Jenkins expects to continue to bring Morant off the bench for the next few games, as the point guard works his way back into proper conditioning.

“[It’s] kind of like a redemption,” Morant said after Wednesday’s victory. “Obviously, it could have been worse. I got a second chance, and I felt like it’s on me to make it right, to show who Ja is as a person.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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