Suns let another one slip away, lose seventh straight to Grizzlies
PHOENIX -- Since igniting their future, the Suns' encounters with the Memphis Grizzlies have been about as predictable as Grizzlies vs. salmon.
But the games have been brutally close lately ... which makes this losing streak feel even worse.
On Monday, the Grizzlies' 102-101 victory at US Airways Center was their seventh in a row over the Suns and was accomplished with an 8-0 run in the last one minute, 49 seconds.
"Our guys ... against this team, we just can't get over the hump against them," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "They make plays at the end, that's why they're a top team in this league."
About four hours before Memphis newcomer Jeff Green completed a game-winning, three-point play with 4.5 seconds remaining, Hornacek was asked for insight regarding how a win over the Grizzlies could be accomplished.
"We just gotta make some shots," Hornacek said.
Well, the Suns -- whose previous bad-dream date with the Grizzlies ended in double-overtime -- converted 50 percent of their field goals this time. They even dug in enough defensively to harass Memphis into 43.4 percent shooting and outscored the appropriately named Grizzlies 62-50 in the paint.
The contrast in styles and recipes for success for each team are not exactly secrets.
"They want to slow it down, they know the tricks," Hornacek said in regard to the Grizzlies' tactics. "If we score, they just take 10 seconds to walk over and pick it up, then they walk out of bounds and then they throw it in, then they get it in to (Marc) Gasol or Zach (Randolph) and they can kill time pretty easily, and ... it's one of those teams, we're going to have to get stops. Hopefully, we can get them to make some turnovers and allow us to run ... that's really how we have to try to play to beat those guys."
On Monday, Phoenix generated enough turnovers, missed shots and tempo to produce 27 fast-break points -- a big help in winning the point-in-the-paint battle.
The paint-points metric, however, doesn't account for the free-throw parade co-starring Grizzlies low-post monoliths Gasol and Randolph. Each of these savvy, space-eating big guys made 7 of 8 attempts from the line.
"Other than being in the lane for 25 seconds, they're both All-Stars," Suns forward Markieff Morris said of Gasol and Randolph. "You're going to stop those guys for maybe a half, but you're going to be able to shut them down an entire game. They just kept fighting.
"With all that being said, we still had the game won, but it didn't go our way."
Also lost in the final numbers was 17-2 second-quarter blitz by the Memphis bench against the Phoenix reserves.
"We usually have a good bench," Hornacek said, "but for whatever reason, our bench didn't look like they were ready to go tonight."
That included Gerald Green, who followed a DNP in the Suns' last home game with a second-quarter cameo (3:26) that featured two turnovers, a couple of missed assignments on defense and no shot attempts.
"We were already down 10 or 12," Hornacek said, "and I had to get the starters back in there to keep it a game."
The starters mustered up an immediate 9-0 run and the game was back on.
To counter what has been a bulldozer-race car challenge, Hornacek decided to really push the speed envelope by going with his three-point-guard lineup at 9:45 of the fourth. The Suns were down by seven (81-74) when Eric Bledsoe (21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, four steals, two blocked shots) checked back in with marching orders to spread the floor and attack.
The message was received by teammate Isaiah Thomas whose 24-point second half (he had nothing in the first two quarters) featured a 16-point salvo over the last 12 minutes. Using high ball screens, Thomas scooted into the lane and made several shots at or near the rim.
And he mixed in a couple of 3-pointers.
His bomb put the Suns up, 101-94, at the aforementioned 1:49 mark and was followed by a turnover from Bledsoe and a block by Memphis guard Courtney Lee on a Thomas jumper.
"It was my fault," Bledsoe said of the lapse in offensive execution. "I made two critical plays at the end that can't happen."
Memphis was busy converting on the other end, with Green recovering a Mike Conley miss and burying a short jumper while being fouled by Marcus Morris. That tied it at 101; Green's free throw put the Suns in a last-shot predicament at 4.5
More shaky execution and a sharp read by Gasol forced a hurried attempt by Markieff Morris that Gasol swatted into the Suns' second consecutive loss and 22nd in 50 games.
"Well, we ran our normal play," Hornacek said, "and we were going to have Isaiah slice off there and try to get it right to Markieff and let him go.
"But (Bledsoe) had Jeff Green on his back, so it took a little extra time to get the pass. It looked like he (Morris) may have been able to cut right there and might've gone right to the basket, but then Gasol did a good job of knowing that. These guys are veteran guys; they know how much time is left on the clock and he left right at the right time to challenge Markieff's shot and get a piece of it."