Ja Morant made a triumphant return to the NBA on Tuesday (Dec. 19) night. He led the Memphis Grizzlies to a victory over the New Orleans Pelicans after serving a 25-game suspension.

In a dramatic match that saw the Grizzlies recover from a 19-point halftime deficit, Morant scored 34 points, including a winning basket in the final moments.

“I’m a dog. I’m a dog, I put work in,” he told TNT afterward, reflecting on his hiatus and the effort he put in during that time. “I’ve been putting work in, man. I ain’t played a game in eight months. Had a lot of time, you know, [to] learn myself. Lot of hard days, you know, where I went through it.”

“Basketball is my life, what I love,” Morant continued. “Therapeutic for me. I’m just excited to be back.”

Morant’s performance set a record for the most points in a return match after an absence of 25 or more games. Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins, who initially planned to limit his playing time, kept him on the court for 35 minutes.

“I know the work that he’s been putting in. His teammates know the work he’s been putting in. I thought he did a phenomenal job,” Jenkins said. “Just with the pace, and the ball movement and obviously the high level-plays, finishes.”

The playoff marked Morant’s first since April 28, following a series of incidents that led to his suspension. He was under scrutiny for flashing what appeared to be a gun on Instagram Live, among other off-court issues.

The Grizzlies, who struggled during his absence with a 7-19 record, now look to him to revitalize their season. His teammates, like Desmond Bane, acknowledged the boost Morant brings. He noted, “It felt different out there, having our guy back, our leader.”