Morant leads Grizzlies past Raptors 119-106 as Brooks dominant in return to Toronto

TORONTO — Head coach Nick Nurse didn't mince words after his Toronto Raptors were run out of their own building by the Memphis Grizzlies.

All-star point guard Ja Morant had a double-double to lead Memphis past the struggling Raptors 119-106 on Thursday. Morant finished with 19 points, 17 assists and four rebounds as the Grizzlies dominated in all facets of the game, but especially in transition.

"I don't know if that play tonight gives me much optimism at all," said Nurse, whose team has lost eight of its last 10 games."That's pretty unacceptable.

"The loose ball count was all in their favour. I'm not talking about 50/50 balls, even. I'm talking about ones where we have huge advantages to get."

Defensive stalwart O.G. Anunonby had 16 points, three rebounds, and two steals as Toronto (15-20) lost its fifth straight at home. He had the same pessimistic view as his coach on the Raptors' performance.

"Tonight's effort wasn't up to standard," said Anunoby, who leads the NBA with 2.2 steals per game. "(Nurse is) definitely right about the effort. We haven't been getting back."

Pascal Siakam had 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Toronto, Scottie Barnes had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Gary Trent Jr. scored 20 off the bench.

Dillon Brooks, from nearby Mississauga, Ont., added 25 points, six assists and four rebounds for Memphis (21-13). Steven Adams scored 14 points and pulled down 17 rebounds.

Brooks said that head coach Taylor Jenkins has been on him about being more of a playmaker.

"Six assists tonight. Kudos to me," said Brooks. "I tried to shoot the open ones and I work on my game every single day to be confident my shot."

Star point guard Fred VanVleet missed the game with ongoing back issues. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said forward Precious Achiuwa could return on Friday.

Siakam made two free throws, his fourth and fifth of the game, to cut the Grizzlies' lead to 57-43 at the half. He led the Raptors with 11 points, five rebounds, and two assists to that point.

Brooks led all scorers at the break with 15 points. The Canadian also had four assists and two rebounds through two quarters.

Barnes walked off the court, through the crowd, and straight to Toronto's locker room at the 8:30 mark of the third as play continued without him. After the game, a Raptors spokesperson confirmed that he had been poked in his left eye but he returned to the court less than three minutes later.

Morant shone in the third, scoring 13 points in the quarter alone to extend Memphis's lead to 93-75. Siakam had 10 points in the period as the Raptors continued to fall behind the Grizzlies.

Toronto showed some life in the fourth quarter, going on a run to come within nine of Memphis. That forced the Grizzlies to put their starting five back out on the floor to reassert their lead.

WELCOME HOME — Brooks was in the Grizzlies' starting lineup with Vancouver's Brandon Clarke coming off the bench. Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins said before the game that his two Canadians were eager to play in their home and native land.

"Last year you felt that energy being different for D.B. and B.C.," said Jenkins, who noted that the Grizzlies have only visited Toronto twice in the past four years because of COVID-19 restrictions. "Any time we've got guys go back to their hometowns, but especially when you're out of the country and you're in your home country, it's very special for those guys."

ROLL WITH JUANCHO — Juancho Hernangomez started at centre for the Raptors for the seventh consecutive game, despite only getting one assist and one rebound in Tuesday's 124-113 loss to the L.A. Clippers. Nurse said that Hernangomez's usage is driven by potential matchups. The Spaniard had two rebounds and a steal in 10:59 of play on Thursday.

UP NEXT — Toronto hosts the Phoenix Suns (20-16) on Friday night in their sixth back-to-back of the season. The Raptors have yet to win both games in those back-to-backs, most recently losing to Golden State and Philadelphia on Dec. 18 and 19. Toronto has not played the Suns since last season, when Gary Trent Jr. scored 42 points as the Raptors beat Phoenix 117-112 on March 11.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2022.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press