MEMPHIS, Tenn. — To some extent, the Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks are mirror images. Two of the best in the NBA, each team is committed to its identity and neither has a superstar doing insurance or car commercials in the midst of nationally televised games.
Sunday night at FedExForum was a showdown of wills, then, as well as a matchup between the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference and the team with the second-best mark in the Western Conference.
“Both teams put their imprint on the game at some time,” said Memphis point guard Mike Conley, who scored 21 points with six assists and three steals as the Grizzlies defeated the Hawks 94-88 Sunday.
No team in the NBA makes 3-point shots at the rate the Hawks do (39.1 percent for the season before Sunday) and they were 12-for-30 (40 percent) against the Grizzlies. They were especially accurate in the second half — 8-for-14 (57.1 percent).
But it wasn’t good enough, even though Memphis shot 3-for-13 for 23.1 percent from long range. The reason it wasn’t good enough — the Grizzlies (38-13) had a huge advantage on points in the paint, 52-34, and in rebounds, 55-37.
“If we don’t win that battle, against that team, we’re gonna be in trouble,” said center Marc Gasol, who had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph also doubled up with 11 points and 15 rebounds. Forward Jeff Green chipped in 11 points. Reserve center Kosta Koufos finished with 10 points and seven rebounds and swingman Tony Allen had nine points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block and multiple moments of creating chaos off the bench, including taking a late rebound away from two Hawks.
“We don’t ever know what’s going to happen (with Allen),” Gasol said. “Honestly, I don’t think he knows what’s going to happen. He feeds off the energy of people cheering for him.”
Point guard Jeff Teague led Atlanta (42-10) with 22 points and six assists. Forward Paul Millsap’s four points on 2-for-10 shooting was his season low and center Al Horford’s six points on 2-for-11 shooting (with 12 rebounds) tied his season low.
“I give them credit,” Horford said. “They are a very good defensive team. We (Horford and Millsap) both had a game where we couldn’t hit anything.”
Memphis led by as many as nine points in the first half, but it was the Hawks who carried a 43-42 lead into the break. Atlanta went up 63-56 at the 4:04 mark in the third quarter on a pair of Teague free throws. But the Grizzlies closed the quarter on a 13-3 run and led 69-66 going in the final frame.
Memphis was 0-for-9 from the 3-point line through the first three quarters, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Conley fueled an 11-2 run as Memphis went up 82-75 at the 7:42 mark.
The score was last tied with 3:25 remaining in the game when Hawks guard Kent Bazemore (14 points) hit a 3-pointer to make it 86-86. Memphis finished out the game with an 8-2 run. The Hawks’ lone basket in the last 3:25 was a layup by Teague with just 8.5 seconds left.
Otherwise, the Grizzlies defense shut them down.
“We’ve got to cut harder, we’ve got to screen harder,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It was good defense for sure.”
The Hawks got 11 points off the bench from guard Dennis Schroder and forward Mike Scott added 11.
Atlanta shot 41 percent (33-for-80) from the floor. Memphis shot 39.1 percent (36-for-92).
“It was a playoff-intensity game,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “I thought we wore them down a little bit. Both teams were exhausted. We got to the basket a little bit better.”
NOTES: Both Memphis and Atlanta have set franchise records for wins before the All-Star break, with 37 and 42, respectively, going into Sunday’s game. … The Timberwolves snapped the Grizzlies’ eight-game winning streak with a 90-89 victory Friday in Minnesota. The Grizzlies won eight straight games in a season four times in team history, but never nine. … The Hawks had their 19-game winning streak stopped on Feb. 2 at New Orleans. Since then, they have won home games over Washington, which has the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, and Golden State, which has the top record in the West. … Hawks F Paul Millsap has scored in double figures in 27 straight games; that’s the second-longest streak of his career. … Atlanta G/F Thabo Sefolosha missed a fifth straight game with a right calf strain. … Memphis G/F Vince Carter missed his fifth consecutive game with a tendon injury in his left foot.
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