How Kyrie Irving gave Ja Morant his first starstruck NBA moment

By , Audacy

Ja Morant, like most guys picked second overall, was not eased into his NBA career.

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By the third game of the regular season, Morant was tasked with going back-and-forth with one of the most talented guards of this generation.

The Memphis Grizzlies in 2019 hosted the Brooklyn Nets and Irving for both teams' third game of the campaign. Morant was a rookie fresh out of Murray State, while Irving had just joined the Nets after spurning the Boston Celtics.

It was little surprise to Morant that he was going to have his work cut out for him. But he shared on “The Pivot Podcast” that one moment just before tip-off really caught his attention.

“I can say, my first starstruck moment was that Kyrie matchup,” Morant said. “Before the tip, the ref brings the guard the ball, you get to choose. Normally when I go I just grab the ball, I dribble it once, pass it back. He grabbed the ball and started doing hella crossovers and s--t. I’m just like goddamn, alright. Game ain’t even started yet and I’m like this is my matchup. He just starts and I’m like oh s--t."

What ensued was an electric matchup between the two guards, a precursor of what was to come in Morant’s career.

The Grizzlies won 134-133 in overtime. Morant scored the game-tying layup with seven seconds left in regulation, then blocked Irving’s attempt at a winner to force overtime. Morant finished with a team-high 30 points.

“That was my first 30-point game," Morant said. "My third game of the season, I blocked him to send it to overtime. And you can tell – because I pretty much could have gotten the ball, we could have called a timeout, had some time on the clock to pretty much end the game. But I blocked the shot and once I blocked it I didn’t even look for the ball no more. I just went down the court talking s–t.”

It was one of what has proven to be many instances of Morant rising to the occasion as he blossoms into one of the NBA’s premier players.

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