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Dragic's trio of three-point plays rescues Suns in Memphis

The SportsXchange

MEMPHIS -- Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic found an instant cure to a virus that zapped him through the first three quarters against Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night.

"When I got those three-point plays, I felt a lot better," Dragic said.

Dragic scored on three old-fashioned three-point plays in a 2:17 span midway through the fourth quarter, then hit a game-clinching jumper with 34.5 seconds left to give the Suns an unexpected 96-90 victory over the discombobulated Grizzlies in FedExForum.

He scored almost half of the Suns' 31 fourth-quarter points, notching 15 of his game-total 17 points in the last period. It also helped that reserve forward Jermaine O'Neal not only scored eight of his 14 in the final quarter, but he also limited Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph to one shot attempt in the last 12 minutes.

"As sick as Goran was, we didn't know what to expect from him," said Lindsey Hunter, who improved to 4-4 as the Suns' interim coach since Alvin Gentry was fired. "But he fought through it, and we won this game with a collective group effort, especially defensively. When you don't shoot well, you can always hang your hat on defense."

But the Suns (17-32) didn't shoot poorly. They hit 50.7 percent from the field (37-of-73) and 81.8 percent (18-of-22) from the free throw line. And despite being tied at end of the first quarter, then trailing at halftime and at the end of the third quarter, they always stayed in striking distance.

That was partially due to an unexpectedly fine offensive performance from Suns center Marcin Gotat, who hit his first seven shots and finished with 20 points and seven rebounds. Part of it was also due to the Grizzlies, trying to blend in three new players acquired in a trade last week, looking hesitant and disorganized.

The Grizzlies (30-17) shot 43.9 percent, were outrebounded 40-34, were outscored in paint 52-40 and committed 16 turnovers, many of them unforced. In the fourth quarter, Memphis made just five of 15 shots and committed seven turnovers.

It got so bad that new starter Tayshaun Prince threw a simple inbounds pass where Jerryd Bayless was supposed to be with 50.7 seconds left. With the game in balance, the ball sailed out of bounds.

"We're a work in progress," Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said, noting the five new faces added to the Memphis roster in the past two weeks. "We have to find plays everyone is familiar and comfortable with. We just have some times where we have miscommunication between our new guys and our older guys that have been here."

While Bayless scored a season-high 29 points off the bench for the Grizzlies, many of the buckets coming off pick-and-rolls, such strategy took the ball out of the hands of Randolph. The two-time All-Star forward had 21 points and 13 rebounds despite attempting only field-goal attempt of the final quarter.

"Coach (Lionel Hollins) has decided pick-and-roll and taking outside shots is our strength, so I'm just doing what he wants me to do," Randolph said.

Prince got his first start for Memphis in his second game after he, Austin Daye and Ed Davis were obtained in a three-team trade Jan. 30.

Hollins admitted that he's struggling to plug in Daye and Davis.

"We couldn't stop (the Suns') inside game because we weren't able to play big," Hollins said. "Gortat hurt us at different times, and O'Neal hurt us late."

NOTES: The Suns own seven victories over six 20-win Western Conference teams this season (Clippers, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Jazz and Lakers). ... Randolph had his 29th double-double of the season. He averaged 24.5 points and 13.3 rebounds in the four games split by the Grizzlies and Suns this season. ... Maybe Hunter, just 2 1/2 years removed from his 17-year NBA playing career, now officially feels old. Hunter, the 42-year-old interim head coach of the Suns, faced Prince, one of his teammates on the Pistons' 2003-04 NBA championship team. "He was a pup and I was still older when came into the league," Hunter said of Prince, 32. "He always calls me 'Uncle Lindsey.' Time goes on, and now he's been in the league double-digit years. Tay is a tough competitor who never backs down. He knows how to win and he knows how to play the game. He's a calm, cool collected character, but he's very opinionated. He speaks his mind and tells you what he thinks. I think that's why he fit in so well in Detroit."
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