The Memphis Grizzlies had the luxury of losing in a do or die game for the Phoenix Suns but came away with the win that clinched them a playoff spot, winning 97-91 to make it a fourth consecutive postseason while the Suns came a lot closer than anyone expected them to.
The Suns held a 85-83 lead in the final minutes of the game before a huge Mike Miller three gave the Grizzlies the lead once again, and from there the Suns made too many mistakes in order to turn the tables a second time. Zach Randolph had his best game of the season in the best moment possible, scoring a season-high 32 points and looking unstoppable near the basket almost every time he touched the ball.
Randolph got help from Mike Miller, who usually starts playing better once the playoffs become part of the equations, and Marc Gasol, per usual. Miller scored 21 points including five 3-pointers, while Gasol had 18 to go with his 8 rebounds. Memphis did a good job in making things difficult for the Suns on the perimeter, limiting them to only 19.2% from three (26 attempts), although it also was about the Suns simply missing good opportunities.
Their biggest game over the last few years, and the Suns blew it in the end. Goran Dragic played better while Eric Bledsoe was injured, and so did Gerald Green. It wasn’t just a matter of team of bigger numbers because of the higher usage ratio. It’s team chemistry, and making things simpler on the court. It looked like sometimes Dragic and Bledose got in each other’s way, and both had sub-par games, combining to score 27 points on 12-of-30 from the field.
The Suns are only the fifth team in NBA history to win 47 games and not make the playoffs. You might say they’re happy with the excellent and most of all surprising season they’ve had, but they weren’t looking at the playoffs as a bonus to their improvement this season. The Suns were in the top 8 for most of the season, and falling out in the last three weeks, coming this close and ending up failing to get the right marks has to be very disappointing, even if the future looks very bright.
For Memphis, it is suddenly 2013 all over again, although with a much more difficult road towards the goal of at least reaching the conference finals. They’ll finish 7th or 8th, with the Spurs, Thunder or possibly even the Clippers as their next opponents, which means going in as underdogs no matter who they face. Coincidentally, those are the three teams they faced in the playoffs last year.
This is the window for the Grizzlies to make it: A team built to win now, and not build themselves for the future. This season would have been simpler without the Marc Gasol injury that made their playoff hunt so tense and difficult, until the very end, but at full health and in this kind of form they’re an opponent no one wants to meet with a defense that’s going to make it very difficult for anyone. Not NBA championship material, but don’t be surprised if they’ll be the passing test for the next ones.