The Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies played a playoff game tonight, and it went just like the last two times the Suns played playoff do-or-die games.
The Suns played their hardest and stayed right there into the final minute before giving up big buckets to the opposing team and failing to score on their end when they needed it the most.
The Suns took a 91-90 lead before Mike Conley made a three-pointer and then committed a turnover on their own end that resulted in Zach Randolph getting a breakaway layup to put the Grizzlies up four. Just. like. that.
The Suns couldn't close the deal while the playoff-veteran team could.
Zach Randolph (32, 9) and Mike Conley (13, 7 with a big game-deciding three) led the Grizzlies when they needed it most, while the Suns were led by their own big three of Goran Dragic (14, 4, 5, 4), Eric Bledsoe (13, 5, 3, 2) and Markieff Morris (21).
But the Suns were outrebounded 38-29, outshot 52% to 49%, and on three pointers 6-15 vs. 5-25. The Suns just couldn't close the deal.
In four losses to the Grizzlies this year, the Suns have scored just 91 in three of them.
After the game, Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph was quite effusive on his respect for the Suns.
"It was real intense. The game went back and forth," he said of the 15 lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. "Those two plays at the end were big for us."
Then he went on, when he didn't need to, about the Suns whose season-long fight for the playoffs just ended despite being in line for 48 wins: "Coach Hornacek did a great job and those young guys over there, you've got to take your hat off to them. They had a great season. Bledsoe, he's a stud. Dragic and all those other guys are great young players. They're a great team with a lot of talent and up and coming."
Grizzlies C Marc Gasol talked about how his Grizzlies team went through a lot of losing when they were younger, and now they're the veteran team that can close out those games, referring to the Suns inability to get to the playoffs.
Point guard Eric Bledsoe made some pointed comments about his role on the team.
"Just got to take all the positives, the positives of this whole season," Bledsoe said. "Now, everybody got a little bit of experience going into next year, what it takes to take it to the next level. Everybody hasn't been in this situation before. Like I said, next year we take it to the next level."
It appeared before the game that the Phoenix Suns would come out flat after losing heartbreakers against the Spurs and Mavericks over the weekend, and facing long odds to make the playoffs.
AZ Republic reporter Paul Coro said the Suns were shellshocked after the Dallas loss, and Coach Hornacek admitted the Suns were still depressed and quiet today.
Add in a Memphis Grizzlies team the Suns really can't match up well against, and you've got a recipe for a bad home loss to end the slate at US Airways Center.
The first quarter proved all those dire prognostications to be true.
The Suns missed 7 of 8 three pointers and 12 of 18 shots overall, and we down to the Grizzlies 24-14 after one period. Their play was so bad that "only" a 10-point deficit was closer than it appeared.
But even in the second quarter, the Suns had no life. They had effort, but no life. A lot of bad decisions, isolation ball, missed jumpers and bad rotations.
And oh the rebounding problems. Tony Allen once slipped in between three Suns rebounders on the back side of the rim all waiting for the missed shot, all within three feet of the rim, and stole the rebound away. Three Suns were there. Three.
The Suns ended the half on a 9-0 run though, to pull within 46-42 at halftime, and then started the second half on an 11-4 run to take a 3-point lead at 53-50.
The Suns played so bad in the first 20 minutes of the game that the Grizzlies had a hard time re-engaging.
Luckily for the Grizzlies, the Suns throttled themselves with six straight bad offensive possessions in the half court and allowed the Grizzlies to retake the lead. Suns took all jumpers, all contested at least partly, all misses.
The Grizzlies took a 59-55 lead before the Suns decided to play ball again, this time driving hard to the hoop by Markieff Morris on two possessions sandwiching a Bledsoe drive as the Suns tied it at 61-61.
The Suns were back. It took a half a basketball game, but the Suns were re-engaged in a big way.
And so were the Grizzlies. The game see-sawed back and forth for a long time as both teams played their hearts out.
Every possession came close to drawing blood as both teams wanted the win desperately.
No team had more than a 3-point lead in the last quarter plus as they fought and clawed for every point like there was no tomorrow.
And guess what? For both teams, that's exactly what it is. The Grizz HAVE to win this game. The Suns HAVE to win this game.
This. Is. It.