For the majority of this game, the Phoenix Suns looked like an old team that played a hard game the night before. Their legs were tired and open looks simply wouldn't fall. The energy was poor and the life was gone. This game had all the markings of a blowout home loss, similar to the one the Suns suffered at the hands of this same Memphis Grizzlies team last season in early January.
The difference tonight in the comeback that came within one free throw of stealing the win was the effort and energy of the Suns bench, led by Goran Dragic, who had a team-high 17 points in 35 minutes.
"First of all, after playing last night and getting back here at 3:30 in the morning, I thought the second unit found a lot of energy, found a way to come back, back from 15, had the game tied and even get three points up," Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said.
The Suns were horrible shooting the ball, including a ridiculous 1-11 from Jason Richardson, who leads the Suns in scoring this season. It was almost comical to watch all the easy looks bounce off the rim and it didn't matter if they were wide open Steve Nash threes or layup attempts. Nothing would go in. The Suns went 6-23 (26.1 percent) in the second quarter of the game and you really can't give much credit to the Grizzlies defense for that.
The tide shifted in the Suns' favor about halfway through the third period. Channing Frye committed a couple of hard fouls that seemed to amp up the adrenaline on both sides and Goran Dragic checked in to the game to play shooting guard alongside Nash for the first time this season.
The Suns chipped away at the lead from that point on, but really started to make headway in the fourth quarter when the bench unit of Dragic, Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick and Jared Dudley found the kind of aggressive, energetic and smart pressure defense they've been searching for all season.
"Finally, huh," Dragic said when asked about the bench unit finally clicking
"We were just aggressive in defense and everybody was in the right spot. We were rotating great and after that we went to transition and scored some easy baskets. I think so if every game we play like that it would be much easier for us."
Goran said it helped to come into the game sooner and play a bit with the starters. He was able to get into a rhythm whereas normally when he comes in from the bench, he's not warm and doesn't have time to find a groove.
In that fourth quarter, the bench defense forced four turnovers leading to seven points, out-rebounded Grizzlies 14-9, and held Memphis to 6-20 shooting after they were hitting 53.3 percent up to that point in the game. It was team effort, but special notice should go to Hedo Turkoglu for his aggressive rebounding against the much bigger Zach Randolph. The Suns won that quarter 28-14.
Randolph finished with 34 points and 17 rebounds for the game, but only had two points and three rebounds in the fourth. It was a remarkable effort and of course the Grizzlies don't quite look at the Suns comeback the same way we do here in Phoenix.
"We got a little frazzled with our second unit and then when the starters came back in, they weren't as focused. They were a little loose and they wound up coming back on us. I thank God they played last night and didn't get in till late," Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins said about his team giving up a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
The game came down to execution late. Hedo Turkoglu hit a huge three-point shot to take a three-point lead with just 6.2 seconds to go. It was the first Suns lead in the game since the first quarter.
On the ensuing Grizzlies possession, the Suns -- up three -- intentionally fouled and sent Conley to the line. He missed the second shot and Frye was fouled on the rebound.
If Channing makes both, the Suns would have been up four points, but he missed one, which gave the Grizzlies 2.8 seconds to tie the game. The Suns missed ten free throws on the night, but that one cost the Suns the game.
Rudy Gay got open off a Randolph screen and hit a corner three to send the game to overtime where the Grizzlies were able to pull away and get the win.
Alvin Gentry spoke about the final sequence of plays.
"We made the foul you're supposed to make, but just didn't knock down the second free throw. You've got to find a way to not give up a corner three. You can't give up a corner three. We didn't switch out on it, we didn't quite get out on it and you have to give him credit -- he knocked down the shot."
Overall, there was both positives and negatives from the game, but Coach Gentry finished his post game press conference on an upbeat note.
"I'm convinced we're going to be a really good team. We're searching. We're searching right now (but) we're in every game that we play. It's not an easy thing. We've got guys trying to adjust to different positions and things. I know it sounds like a broken record (but) it will all come together. If we keep working like that, like we played tonight, and play with that kind of effort, I'm convinced that we'll be a good team."