PHOENIX – The Memphis Grizzlies’ brute size had tortured the Suns over the past few seasons, most notably in four victories that led to Phoenix’s playoff-less, 48-win team two years ago.
If there was ever an odd time and a ironic way to get payback, the Suns dropping the Grizz in two of their five total wins over the last 25 games would be it.
But as small consolation prizes in a lost season might tend to go, Phoenix couldn’t secure a winning head-to-head record against a likely playoff team, falling 103-97 to Memphis on Monday.
Unlike the last two meetings, the Suns lost the paint battle, a key point for a team that aimed to slow Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph with the center duo of Tyson Chandler and Alex Len. After the Suns had built a 50-39 halftime lead, Chandler left due to back spasms and never returned.
“Every time we played Memphis, we really controlled the paint,” Suns interim coach Earl Watson said. “Zach, as he catches the ball and attacks the basket, (our plan was to) come over with another 7-footer. Without our 7-footer in, they took advantage.”
Randolph followed his first career triple-double in Memphis’ win against the Clippers on Saturday with 14 points and 13 rebounds against the Suns. Even with Phoenix throwing doubles at Randolph, it along with 47 bench points and Tony Allen’s defense to limit looks by Devin Booker (18 points on 5-of-13 shooting) were enough for the Grizzlies to eek out the win.
“He’s good with his pivots, he’s good at catching and going quick, he doesn’t let the defense get set and he’s obviously tough when he’s going to that left,” said forward Jon Leuer, Randolph’s ex-teammate and Chandler’s second-half replacement in the starting lineup.
Phoenix ended up a minus-22 in paint points, and compacting the issues up front was Alex Len’s lack of aggressiveness.
After averaging 20.5 points and 16 rebounds in the last two meetings with Memphis, Len went 3-for-8 for nine points and six rebounds in 28 minutes.
“I think Alex Len is mentally battling himself. It’s part of the process with A-Len,” Watson said. “You can’t worry about bad-shot, good-shot. Once you start overthinking the game, it becomes more complicated than it really is.”
HE SAID IT
“Right now it’s John Jenkins. You can’t play everyone. You got to keep a rotation. Archie had chances in the past, now it’s John Jenkins for a while. It could change but I think John Jenkins is doing well.” — Earl Watson on why Suns guard Archie Goodwin is not in the rotation
Leuer scored 13 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked three shots in 32 minutes against his former Grizzlies squad. He spelled Chandler when the center didn’t come out of the tunnel in the second half.
A bench unit of Ronnie Price, Jenkins, Chase Budinger, Mirza Teletovic and Leuer began on the floor with a 28-24 deficit but built a lead of 39-30 midway through the second quarter – that lineup had the first 15 points of a 18-2 run for a 12-point Phoenix lead. The Suns led 50-39 at half, holding the Grizzlies to 37 percent shooting and turning them over nine times leading to 14 points for the Suns. “The second unit was positive. They played in point-five, which we call catch-drive-shoot, pass the ball, they played quick,” Watson said.
Having averaged 14.5 points of his 19.3 total during the second halves of four games since his return from injury, point guard Brandon Knight dropped another big second-half with 10 of his 13 coming in the third and fourth quarters. Knight also recorded six of his seven assists in the second half.
The Suns opened with an 11-4 lead before the Grizzlies quickly reeled them back in to go ahead 24-21 after the first quarter. Phoenix anticipated and jumped passing lanes to force five turnovers in the first quarter, but the offense stalled. After five assists led to five field goals early on, the Suns finished with six total made shots from the field, 29 percent shooting and Knight’s ugly 0-for-6 shooting line.
An early-quarter burst of offense helped the Grizzlies take a 80-79 lead with nine minutes left in the game. Lance Stephenson outscored the Suns 10-6 to begin the fourth quarter against Phoenix’s previously hot-shooting second unit. Quickly, Watson went back to the starters. “In the second half, the second unit couldn’t really get going again. They did a great job of countering that by putting Jordan Farmar in pick-and-rolls, using Lance Stephenson on drives,” Watson said.
The Suns held a 97-95 lead after a Knight step-back jumper with 2:12 to play, but they finished with seven missed shots in the final two minutes of the game, plus a turnover on an inbound pass.
STAT OF THE GAME
17: Memphis scored 17 second-chance points to just five for Phoenix, even though the Suns grabbed just one less offensive board.
– Booker hunched over after drawing a blocking foul in the first half and grimaced as he took time to walk back to the bench. He cleared up any worries about his health after the game, saying he just had to take some time to recover from a hit below the belt.
– Watson didn’t have an update on Chandler’s injury status after the game.
– Farmar, who officially signed with Memphis earlier in the day, scored 12 points off the bench for the Grizzlies.
– Booker has scored 15 or more points 26 times by his current age (19 years, 143 days). That ties Dwight Howard, for the fourth-most by that age, training only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
It’s going to be a rowdy one, at least in terms of two teams fighting for lottery balls.
On Wednesday, the Suns host the Los Angeles Lakers and, for the final time, Kobe Bryant at 7 p.m. MST. It’s just a matter of whether Phoenix will get to say farewell – in whatever manner that entails – to Bryant, who has been out of action due to a shoulder injury. The Lakers’ future Hall of Famer has not played the Lakers’ last two games and is questionable to play Tuesday against Memphis.
In their last meeting, the Suns beat the Lakers in Staples Center 95-90 on Friday.
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