MEMPHIS — The Nets have been nothing if not exciting in three games, but they are having trouble closing the show. For the third straight game, they squandered a fourth-quarter lead on Sunday night. Rookie Ja Morant scored eight points in a 10-2 run to end regulation, blocked a shot by Kyrie Irving at the buzzer and fed Jae Crowder for a buzzer-beating three-pointer in overtime for a 134-133 victory over the Nets at FedEx Forum.
Morant scored 19 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter and overtime and seemed to relish going head-to-head with Irving.
The Nets put together a 10-0 surge midway through the fourth period, including five points each by Caris LeVert and Irving, and took their biggest lead at 118-110 on Irving’s corner three with 3:20 to go.
But Morant wasn’t done. He scored six straight points to make it a two-point game at 2:17 and tied it at 120 on a layup with seven seconds left in regulation. Then he blocked Irving’s attempt to send it to overtime.
“Tonight, I was just trying to take on the challenge with a great player,” Morant said. “On that [block], Coach was just telling us to stay down, and once he pump-faked it, I was down and I knew the shot was coming.”
Describing the play from his vantage point, Irving said, “I head-faked. I tried to shoot a fade. He has long arms. He got a good contest on it and blocked the shot. It was a great defensive play.”
The game was tied four times in OT before a three by Crowder, his first points of the game, gave the Grizzlies a 131-128 lead at 1:09.
The Nets regained a 132-131 lead on Joe Harris’ tip-in with 27.9 seconds left. Morant committed a turnover on an inbounds pass with 8.1 seconds left, and Spencer Dinwiddie was fouled but made only the first of two.
On an inbounds play at 3.7 seconds, Morant drove to the top of the arc, planning to take the shot. But he was facing a double-team and heard Crowder yell “Trailer!” so he gave it up.
“I just pitched back and backed into the other defenders so they wouldn’t be able to contest the shot,” Morant said.
Irving led the Nets (1-2) with 37 points and added seven rebounds and seven assists. LeVert scored 27 points, Dinwiddie totaled 16 points and eight assists, and Jarrett Allen added 14 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.
The Grizzlies (1-2) got a 21-point effort from Dillon Brooks.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson blamed the loss on falling into a 14-point second-quarter hole along with poor team defense. “To sum it up, we could never get stops,” he said, referring to a stretch in which the Grizzlies scored on 10 of 13 possessions spanning the end of regulation and start of overtime. “I don’t know how many straight possessions they scored, but I never felt like we could get the requisite stops to win this game. Really, we didn’t deserve to win the game.”
Irving was impressed with Morant, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. “He didn’t really hit the outside shot tonight, which we wanted to encourage,” Irving said, “but he’s pretty great at what he’s known for, and that’s getting into the paint and playing with a lot of passion.”
Asked if he sees a common thread for why the Nets have struggled to build on late leads, Irving said, “It’s becoming more cerebral on the offensive end and the defensive end, not slowing the game down, not having silly fouls, not doing things that put us in a position where we have to play catch-up. But that takes experience, it takes time.”