PHOENIX (AP)—Suddenly, the Memphis Grizzlies are a team to be reckoned with.
The victory lifted the Grizzlies to the .500 mark (16-16) after a 1-8 start. This is the first time they have been at .500 or better this late in the season since 2005-06. They did not get their 16th victory last season until March 4, in their 60th game.
Memphis’ resurgence started after they disposed of Allen Iverson(notes) on Nov. 17. Since then, they are 14-8, including a team-record 9-4 in December. During that month, they beat three division leaders—Dallas, Cleveland and Denver.
“It’s hasn’t been easy,” Gasol said of the Grizzlies’ comeback from the depths of the NBA to a respectable record. “We never gave up. We continue to improve. When we were 1-8, we wanted to play good basketball and be winners. It hasn’t been good for us the last few years. Now, we want more. This is just the beginning.”
Coach Lionel Hollins credits his team’s resurgence to camaraderie.
“We’ve come together as a team,” he said. “We believe in each other. We’ve developed great chemistry. This was an awesome game … from wire to wire. We took control right from the start. I preached yesterday (Friday) and today at practice that we can’t give up easy layups to this team—and we didn’t give up many. That gives you a chance to win.
“Nobody would have thought we could come back from 1-8.”
“We believe we can win, any game, any night,” Conley said.
The Suns, meanwhile, were coming off consecutive victories over two of the NBA’s elite: Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead, they played poorly in one of their most one-sided defeats of the season.
Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry was impressed with the Grizzlies and disappointed in his team.
“We can sugar coat it and we can say different things, but they beat us in every phase of the game,” Gentry said. “They were tough on the boards, they made plays, they made shots, they were better defensively.”
Nash called this a big game, bigger than beating the Lakers or the Celtics.
“The Lakers and Celtics are bonuses,” he said. “The key thing is to beat the teams below you in the standings. These losses hurt, especially the way we played tonight.”
“We didn’t bring the effort tonight,” Stoudemire said. “We didn’t play hard, we didn’t shoot well and with that being said, it results in a loss. We’ve got to do a better job.”
The Grizzlies went on a 16-0 run early in the second quarter—mostly against the Suns’ reserves—and built a 19-point lead three times in the period, including 69-50 at halftime. Young was the catalyst during the spurt with nine points and he finished with 14 in the quarter. Memphis scored 36 points in the period, tying its season high.
At the half, the Grizzlies, who never trailed, had dominated in every phase of the game. They were shooting 57.1 percent from the field (28-48), hit four of seven 3-point attempts—compared to the Suns’ 4 of 14—and had 25 rebounds to Phoenix’s 14.
Also by that time, they had five players in double figures, led by Mayo’s 16. In contrast, the Suns had only two double-digit scorers, Stoudemire with 19 and Nash with 15.
Memphis continued to pour it on in the third quarter, extending its lead to 100-76.
NOTES: Hollins spent seven years (1988-95) as an assistant with the Suns. … Randolph and Gasol were the NBA’s top rebounding duo (22.4 per game) prior to facing the Suns. … Before the start of play, the Suns’ foursome of Channing Frye(notes), with 84 3-pointers, Jason Richardson(notes) (58), Jared Dudley(notes) (56) and Nash (55) combined for a total of 253 3s, more than the totals of 26 NBA teams. … The Grizzlies were 29th in the league in 3-point makes (109), but were first in points in the paint (52.8), offensive rebounding (13.7) and in rebounding margin (plus 5.2).