Basketball: Ja Morant returns as Grizzlies bear down on 76ers

The point guard returned from an eight-game absence with a sprained left ankle to score 17 points

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant driving to the basket against Philadelphia 76ers during their match on Jan 16, 2021.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant driving to the basket against Philadelphia 76ers during their match on Jan 16, 2021.PHOTO: JUSTIN FORD/USA TODAY SPORTS

MEMPHIS (Reuters) - Ja Morant returned from an eight-game absence with a sprained left ankle to score 17 points and lift the host Memphis Grizzlies past the Philadelphia 76ers 106-104 on Saturday (Jan 16).

Xavier Tillman added 15, Brandon Clarke contributed 11 points and 11 rebounds while Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks had 11 points each.

Shake Milton led the Sixers with 28 points, Tobias Harris added 21 and Ben Simmons had 11 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists. Tyrese Maxey, who had 12 points, missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.

Dwight Howard pulled down 18 rebounds, but the Sixers were hurt by 23 turnovers.

Harris stepped on the endline with 5.9 seconds left for the 23rd turnover with the Sixers trailing 105-104.

The Sixers were quite short-handed without all-star Joel Embiid (right knee soreness) and Seth Curry (Covid contact tracing). Reserves Mike Scott (knee) and Furkan Korkmaz (groin) also were out. The Sixers fell to 0-3 without Embiid this season.

Memphis led by six, 60-54, at halftime thanks in large part to Morant's 12 points.

Harris paced the Sixers with 10 points. But the Sixers struggled from the perimeter overall as they missed nine of their 12 treys in the first half.

Less than two minutes into the third, Clarke threw down a dunk for a 66-56 Memphis advantage.

The Sixers closed within 78-74 when Milton knocked down two free throws with 3:05 left in the third.

Grayson Allen made a 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer to give the Grizzlies an 88-76 advantage.

Milton continued his aggressive play in the fourth with another jumper and kept the Sixers close as they trailed 96-88 with 8:32 to go.

Milton soon hit two free throws and the Philadelphia deficit was 100-94. When Simmons hit a short turnaround jumper with 5:29 remaining, the Sixers trailed by just four, 100-96.

Brooks responded with a trey from the wing for a 103-96 Memphis advantage.

Howard missed a pair of free throws with 2:37 left with the Sixers behind 105-100.

After two empty Memphis possessions, Harris scored consecutive baskets to get within 105-104 with 1:25 remaining.