MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—A third-quarter burst woke up the Memphis Grizzlies and sent them coasting to their second straight postseason berth.
The celebration was much more subdued than last year when Memphis earned its first spot in the postseason since 2006. This time, it was more of a business-like approach.
“I can’t say I didn’t except it,” Gay said of making the postseason. “This team expected to be in the playoffs and build on last year, and we did that.”
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins added: “We didn’t want to be a one-and-done kind of group. We had a lot of success last year (reaching the semifinals in the Western Conference), and we just wanted to make sure we got back.”
Gay was 9 of 14 from the field and Conley hit 8 of 11 as the Grizzlies shot 51 percent overall. O.J. Mayo scored 15 points and Zach Randolph added 10 for Memphis, which won for the 10th time in 13 games.
For Gay, it was his fourth consecutive game of 20-plus points, and he is averaging 26 points over the span.
“I’m going to keep going out there and being aggressive,” Gay said. “That’s what I do. I’m a scorer by heart, and you can’t score without shooting.”
Rookie Jerome Dyson led the Hornets with a career-high 24 points, while Carl Landry finished with 16, hitting all four of his shots from the field and going 8 of 9 from the line. Marco Belinelli matched Landry’s 16 points, and Jason Smith finished with 12.
“Coach (Monty Williams) just told me to attack, and that’s what I was able to do,” Dyson said of his offensive performance. “Once I got in the middle, I was able to get into a rhythm. I was just able to get to the basket.”
The loss snapped New Orleans’ four-game winning streak. Meanwhile, Memphis maintained its hold on the fifth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Grizzlies’ start was hardly representative of a team trying to clinch a playoff berth. They struggled and seemed content to ignore their offensive plans, relying more on a one-on-one mentality.
Only a ramped-up defensive approach by Memphis in the closing minutes of the first half kept the Hornets from holding a bigger lead at the break.
“We didn’t impose our will,” Mayo said. “We’re a good team, and we were out there playing a little timid. They were shooting 50-something percent at halftime. I was like `C’mon, what’s the big deal? What’s wrong, you know?’
“I just told the guys we had to impose our will.”
Memphis opened the third quarter on a 20-4 run, hitting its first nine shots in the period. Meanwhile, the defense forced six turnovers and allowed New Orleans only five shots in the first 6 minutes of the quarter.
The rally gave Memphis a 67-52 lead midway through the third quarter. The Grizzlies would continue to build the lead to as many as 24 points as they outscored the Hornets 37-12. Gay had 13 in the quarter, and the Grizzlies forced 11 turnovers in the third alone.
“The third quarter got away in a hurry,” Williams said. “Anytime you have that many turnovers, you can’t be surprised. .We didn’t have the execution we needed, and that is part of the growth that we need to see from our young guys.
“When we started to get behind, I looked at the lineup and realized it was all youth. We didn’t have any veterans or experience to slow the game down.”
The third-quarter dominance was enough for the smiles to emerge from the Memphis bench, and the reserves to get extended minutes, playing the bulk of the fourth quarter.
Belinelli’s 3-pointer with just over a second left in the half gave him 14 points and the Hornets a 48-47 lead.
Belinelli connected on 6 of 11 shots in the half, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, part of the Hornets shooting 54 percent.
“When you play teams that are under .500, sometimes it’s hard to rev it up mentally,” Hollins said.
Memphis, which has a reputation as one of the league’s strongest inside teams, decided to rely on long-range shooting, hitting only one of its eight shots from outside the arc. Still, Memphis had a 34-18 advantage in the paint, and the Hornets were hindered by nine turnovers.
Memphis ended the game outscoring the Hornets 56-34 in the paint, and New Orleans committed 24 turnovers.
Even with the win, Memphis still has hopes of reaching the fourth seed and earning homecourt advantage for the opening round.
But their focus is also on advancing beyond last year’s performance.
“We have high expectations for ourselves,” Mayo said. “It’s obviously the highest of expectations to win a ring. Last year, we could just be happy to be there. .This year, we definitely have a different focus. And we feel like we’re supposed to be there.”
Notes: The Hornets defeated Memphis 88-75 on Sunday in New Orleans. … Memphis reserve G Gilbert Arenas sat out the game with an injured finger on his shooting hand. … The Hornets announced before the game that C Chris Kaman likely will miss the rest of the season with a bruised left tibia. G Jarrett Jack already is out with a right foot stress fracture and C Emeka Okafor is likely gone for the last four games with a sore left knee. … The Hornets signed 6-foot-11 C Darryl Watkins to a 10-day contract Wednesday. Watkins had two points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots against Memphis. .Memphis has an eight-game home winning streak. .Memphis reserve C Hamed Haddadi recorded a career-high four blocks.