PHOENIX — In a game that featured 22 second-half lead changes and 15 in the fourth quarter alone, Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley finally put an end to the tug-of-war — and the Phoenix Suns’ season — with one big shot.
Conley’s only 3-pointer of the game, a 26-footer with 1:08 to play, put Memphis ahead to stay and sent the Grizzlies to the NBA playoffs for the fourth consecutive year with a 97-91 win over the Suns on Monday night.
“Everything I had was in the defensive plays leading up to that shot,” said Conley, who finished with 14 points and seven assists in 37 minutes. “We gave it everything we had. We knew what this game meant, and I’m happy we were able to pull this out.”
The Grizzlies (49-32) can move up to seventh place in the Western Conference and avoid a first-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs with a victory over the Dallas Mavericks (49-32) in the season finale Wednesday. The winner will get the Oklahoma City Thunder, while the loser heads to the Alamo to face the 62-win Spurs.
Forwards Zach Randolph and Mike Miller turned in stellar performances to help the Grizzlies complete a four-game sweep of the Suns (47-34) and eliminate Phoenix from postseason contention. Randolph scored a season-high 32 points and collected nine rebounds, and Miller added five 3-pointers and a season-high 21 points.
Center Marc Gasol added 18 points and eight rebounds for Memphis, which outrebounded Phoenix 42-30. The Grizzlies are 39-17 after a 10-15 start to the season.
“San Antonio is a great team, Oklahoma City is a great team, but we want to get that last win,” said Randolph, who was surprised to learn he took 25 of his team’s 77 shots in the game. He hit 15 shots. “This was a real intense, back-and-forth game. Mike Miller and Mike Conley made some big shots, and we got some stops at the end.”
Forward Markieff Morris scored 21 points off the bench for the Suns, who play a meaningless finale against the Kings in Sacramento on Wednesday. Guard Goran Dragic had 14 points and six assists, and he tied a career high with five steals while playing though a badly sprained ankle.
“Those are the players you love to coach and love to have on your team,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said. “The guy’s ankle, he could be making it worse … but if I’m going down, I’m going to go down kicking and trying. That’s Goran.”
Center Miles Plumlee gave the Suns their final lead at 91-90 on an offensive rebound put-back with 1:27 left. That was the last point Phoenix scored. Dragic had a chance to tie the game after winning a jump ball with Memphis guard Tony Allen, but he air-balled a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left.
Picked by many as the worst team in the league in the preseason, the Suns improved from 25 wins last season to 47 with a game to go. However, they will become only the fifth team in NBA history to win at least 47 games and fail to make the playoffs.
“It’s really tough to say something positive right now,” Dragic said. “Nobody expected us to play so good, (but) when you’re so close to the playoffs, you always want a little bit more. I was hoping we would make the playoffs and try to upset somebody.”
Early on, it looked as if Memphis would take control.
The Suns had one fast break and one 3-point basket — both on the same play — during a 14-point first quarter in which they missed 12 of 18 shots. Meanwhile, Randolph hit six of his first nine shots from the floor and gave the Grizzlies a 24-12 lead on a 17-footer with 47.8 second left.
Miller took over in the second quarter, hitting three 3-pointers and scoring 13 of Memphis’s first 15 points. The Grizzlies led by as many as 13 before the Suns got their running game going just before halftime.
Phoenix scored the final nine points of the quarter, starting with guard Eric Bledsoe’s 3-pointer and ending with a fast-break layup by Bledsoe off a Dragic feed with 23.2 seconds left, cutting Memphis’ lead to 46-42 at the half. The Suns added the first five of the third quarter, with an 8-foot hook by Plumlee giving Phoenix its first lead of the game at 47-46.
Memphis regained the lead with an 11-2 run late in the quarter, with Gasol following a Miller 3-pointer with a layup to push the Grizzlies in front 61-55. The Suns then closed the quarter with a flourish, and the teams went to the fourth quarter even at 67, setting up the see-saw finish.
NOTES: The Suns also failed to make the postseason despite winning 49 games in 1971-72, 48 in 1970-71 and 46 in 2008-09. … Memphis coach David Joerger on the Grizzlies’ three early-season wins over Phoenix that secured the tiebreaker over the Suns: “We kind of got in a rhythm and got them to play our style,” he said. “You can’t turn it over against them because they don’t need an excuse to run a hundred miles an hour.” … Suns G Eric Bledsoe scored 30 and 29 points in back-to-back losses at San Antonio and Dallas on Friday and Saturday. When Bledsoe and Goran Dragic each score 16 points in a game, the Suns are 16-0 this season. Neither of them got there Monday.
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