Ja Morant played final stretch of season with broken thumb

Ja Morant-081620-GETY-FTR
(Getty Images)

The Grizzlies may end up looking back on their 2019-20 season as one big what-if.

Memphis not only wasted a 3.5-game lead over Portland at the start of the NBA hiatus — it ended up losing to the Trail Blazers in Saturday's play-in game after going 2-6 in the NBA bubble — but also had to finish the season with rookie phenom Ja Morant playing injured.

Morant, following Saturday's season-ending loss to Portland, revealed he had been playing with a fractured thumb "since the (Toronto) Raptors game." Had Memphis won on Saturday, it would have played again on Sunday to determine who would earn the No. 8 seed and face the Lakers in the Western Conference playoffs.

MORE: NBA playoff bracket 2020: Updated standings, seeds & Round 1 projections in Orlando

The season may have ended in disappointment for the Grizzlies and Morant, but he performed admirably in the losing effort, shooting 13 of 28 (3 of 6 from beyond the arc) for a season-high 35 points. That, of course, is made all the more impressive considering he wore a brace to protect his thumb on his shooting hand.

Morant, the runaway favorite for NBA's Rookie of the Year award, posted a 38.8 shooting percentage and averaged 18.3 points and 11 assists per game during the period in which he played injured; prior to that, he shot 39.8 percent from the field and averaged 19.4 points and 9.2 assists per game in the NBA bubble.

"I can say I'm disappointed, definitely, with losing," Morant said. "Nobody likes to lose. But I mean, the positive side, we know we were right there. Just were two games away (from the playoffs). So, we know we just go back to work and just get ready for next season."

Memphis can still be happy with where things are headed in general, even if the 2019-20 season ended on a sour note. Not long removed from having an aging roster without a clear route to future contention, the Grizzlies carry three youngsters who could be above-average starters for years to come in Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke. The team also seemingly struck gold on a bevy of role players as it juggled its rotation throughout the campaign.

So, the Grizzlies should be back in the playoff picture soon enough. Next time, they might be fighting for a spot better than the No. 8 seed.

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