Grizzlies 101, Kings 96
Tony Allen knelt at center court on the Memphis logo as Zach Randolph hit two free throws to seal the Grizzlies' first trip to the playoffs in five years.
''I could go on all day telling y'all what was going on in my head at the time,'' Allen said. ''For the most part, I was just happy. ... We just have a great group of guys around us. For the most part, we are where we want to be, and it's on us to continue this journey.''
Randolph had 27 points and 15 rebounds as the Grizzlies clinched the Western Conference's final playoff spot Friday night with a 101-96 win over the Sacramento Kings.
Randolph's two free throws with 4.8 seconds left sealed the victory for the Grizzlies, who head to the postseason for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The victory eliminated Houston from the playoff chase.
The accomplishment satisfied Memphis owner Michael Heisley's three-year plan to get the Grizzlies back in the postseason and, for some, it culminated a resurrection from lean years.
''I'm ecstatic,'' said point guard Mike Conley, who had 12 points and eight assists. ''For guys that have been here for the long ride, we've had a lot of ups and downs. This team has fought. We've had some guys go down. We've gone through a lot of adversity. For us to be in this situation at the end of the season, clinching a playoff spot is (exciting).''
Marc Gasol added 18 points for Memphis and Allen scored 13 as Memphis won for the fifth time in six games.
The Kings kept things interesting to the end, whittling away at the lead down the stretch.
Marcus Thornton led the Kings with 18 points, seven coming in the final 2:30 to keep the Grizzlies from celebrating too early. Samuel Dalembert had 17 points and 16 rebounds. Tyreke Evans had 16 points, and Jason Thompson had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Memphis weathered a fourth-quarter rally that pulled the Kings to 97-96 with 39 seconds left.
''We had a great chance to win, especially down the stretch in the final seconds,'' Kings coach Paul Westphal said. ''It didn't go our way.''
Memphis guard O.J. Mayo (eight points) sensed his teammates were so eager to clinch the playoff spot that they may have gotten caught up in the emotion.
''Guys just wanted it so bad,'' Mayo said. ''You try to open the game up in one quarter. OK, now it's two quarters, and we've got a little lead. Then it's three, but they're fighting back. So, it was a game we had to win down the stretch.
''That's OK. We accept all ugly wins, and we don't want any pretty losses.''
The Kings outrebounded Memphis 49-42, including 16 offensive rebounds that contributed to 31 second-chance points, a season high for Sacramento.
Memphis came out running as if it wanted to claim the playoff spot early, but it didn't take long for the game to settle into another low-scoring affair, where Memphis let a non-playoff team hang close.
The Grizzlies were having trouble scoring, and shooting around 40 percent through much of the half. While the Kings shot slightly better, they committed 10 turnovers.
Gasol had 13 points at the break to help Memphis carry a 46-43 lead at halftime, but it was not pretty. The Grizzlies shot 38 percent, while the Kings were at 42 percent, and both teams missed all five of their 3-point attempts.
Evans had 10 points to lead the Kings.
Francisco Garcia nailed the first 3-pointer of the game in the opening minutes of the third quarter, then followed with another to help Sacramento retake the lead.
Memphis finally turned up the defense, got out running and started getting the ball into Randolph. Allen got a dunk off a Conley steal, and Randolph stole the ball, leading to his own layup for Memphis' biggest lead at that point, 69-57, with 4:11 left in the third.
Memphis carried a 77-67 lead into the fourth, led by Randolph's 10 points in the third.
Greene's drive with just over 5 minutes left cut the Memphis lead to 92-85. Dalembert's free throws 2 minutes later pulled the Kings within five.
Thornton connected on a 3-pointer with 2:30 left to cap an 8-0 run that trimmed the lead to 92-90. He would get the Kings even closer with 39 seconds left on a tip-in to cut it to 97-96.
''We just kept going,'' Westphal said. ''We just kept playing hard. The fourth quarter, we worked the zone quite a bit, and it seemed to help us most of the time. We had some shots go in and out, and we fouled a lot.''
Memphis could have made the ending a lot easier but couldn't hit its free throws in the final 50 seconds, connecting on three of six attempts during one stretch. Randolph missed two of his four shots from the line.
With the Memphis crowd sensing the end of five years of frustration, they were on their feet as Memphis held a 99-96 lead with 10.3 seconds left and Sacramento inbounding the ball.
Thornton's 3-point attempt missed badly, and Randolph was fouled, sinking the final two free throws with 4.8 seconds left.
''I usually hit my free throws,'' Randolph said of the early misses. ''I was thinking about the playoffs and what's next for us. It's definitely a lot of pressure up there, but I made the last two that counted.''
Despite being the last team to clinch a playoff berth, Memphis could actually reach the sixth seed. Two of their final three games are against New Orleans and Portland, the teams immediately ahead of them in the standings.
''We've been through a lot,'' Conley said. ''Those 20-win seasons that we've had, the bumps and trades and different things going back and forth. We've had a tough road. To be here right now, you couldn't ask for a better way for it to turn out.''
NOTES: Memphis F Shane Battier is the only player who was with the team when the Grizzlies were last in the playoffs five years ago, and he left before the next season in a trade with Houston. He returned this year in another trade with the Rockets. Memphis coach Lionel Hollins was an assistant on the 2005-06 team. ... Kings G Evans, who played one season at the University of Memphis, was given a nice ovation in the pre-game introductions. DeMarcus Cousin, who ended up at Kentucky with former Tiger coach John Calipari, got booed. ... The start of the second quarter was delayed several minutes after the shot clock above one of the baskets was not illuminated. A backup was brought out and put on the floor in the corner.