Phoenix Suns 123, Memphis Grizzlies 118 — J-Rich delivers comeback


PHOENIX — When O.J. Mayo drilled a pair of foul shots with 3.7 seconds left to stretch Memphis’ lead to four and send many Phoenix fans streaming toward the exits, the end result appeared to be nothing more than a formality.

When Jason Richardson banked home a three from 29 feet out to cut the lead to one with 1.1 seconds remaining, it seemed to be a case of too little too late.

When Rudy Gay missed the first and inexplicably made the second instead of clanging it off the rim, the Suns had a flicker of hope but not much more with only four tenths of a second remaining in regulation.

But when Grant Hill threw a perfect lob to Richardson, Memphis failed to switch and J-Rich put the ball in the cup just in time, the Suns had finished the kind of rare comeback fans always dream about in this situation, and two overtimes later they somehow found a way to pull off a 123-118 double overtime victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

“It was obviously a phenomenal feeling,” Steve Nash said. “We’ve had our struggles. We thought we were dead and all of a sudden we’re back in there.”

Added Richardson, “That was just a crazy turnaround. They thought they had a win, and I guess the basketball gods were on our side.”

They most certainly were, as the Suns were able to survive a 42.6 percent shooting night and 28 turnovers when the Grizzlies self-destructed at the end of regulation and then missed two free throws in overtime and four more in double overtime. The Grizzlies showed their youth by starting double overtime with a few bad shots to allow the Suns to jump out to a lead they would never relinquish after trailing the vast majority of the game.

Although everything had to go right for Phoenix in the final 3.7 of a game they had all but lost, the play everybody was buzzing about — JMZ included — was the Hill to Richardson alley-oop, which Schmitz broke down with Fast Draw.

Of all the many mistakes the Grizzlies made, next to Gay’s botched made free throw, failing to switch with Richardson was their biggest one. Unless you’re Derek Fisher it’s tough to get much of a look in 0.4, so the lob to the rim on a back screen is the most common play in this situation.

It’s a play one of Gentry’s Detroit teams ran with Hill as the inbounder for a win, and it’s a play the Suns often work on in practice for this very situation.

When J-Rich’s bucket swirled through the net, the Suns’ bench exploded, and the frustrations of the past week seemed to seep away.

“Grant threw a great pass. He’s known for throwing great passes,” Richardson said. “He threw one to Christian Laettner to win the game, so he threw a great pass up there.”

Added Hill, “Sometimes when a team’s struggling, playing good but just not closing games, sometimes you forget how to do it and lose confidence. To pull it out like we did, a lot of things were going against us, it seems like we couldn’t get over that hump. To still get a win against a good team, it showed a lot.”

Richardson starred for the Suns even before his magical final three seconds, as he scored a Suns career-high 38 points on 14-for-29 shooting (6-for-8 threes) to go with eight boards, three assists and four steals. Yes, he would have been a good fantasy basketball play tonight.

J-Rich scored 15 of Phoenix’s 20 points in the Suns’ putrid opening quarter and he was clutch in overtime, hitting Phoenix’s first bucket in both extra periods.

“The guy gets 38, obviously he was the difference in the game offensively,” Gentry said.

The Suns overcame an 18-point first half deficit — the team’s biggest comeback since overcoming a 22-point deficit on March 31, 2008, against Denver — thanks in large part to their second unit. Their scrappy play changed the feeling of the game early, and they held the Grizzlies scoreless for almost four minutes to open the fourth as the Suns regained the lead early in the final period.

This comeback was critical because the Suns face a daunting remainder of November. They get Atlanta and Memphis on their upcoming road trip, return home for Sacramento, visit the Lakers, host Denver and then head to Florida for a back-to-back against the Heat and the Magic.

That’s the kind of schedule that can bury a team with a lot of new parts getting acclimated, and a win in this fashion turns what would have been a real depressing loss into a rejuvenating victory.

Gentry called this “as big a gut-check game as we’ve had in a long, long time,” but stopped short of calling it anything more than just one win in the grand scheme of things.

Channing Frye believes it could give the Suns a lift but understands it is just one game, and Nash feels like the way the Suns won with heart and scrap should boost their confidence down the road.

We won’t know exactly what this victory means for a little while, but this is the kind of win that can bring a team together, a perfect early-season result for a new squad searching for chemistry.

“Hopefully this can kind of get us going a little bit,” Hill said. “It’s good to have a game where he had to show some grit, show some fight.

“It just goes to show you, anything can happen.”

And 1

  • Alvin Gentry celebrated his 56th birthday with the victory. Said Gentry: “I will never, ever, ever make my next birthday if we’re going to have to go through a whole season like that.”
  • The Suns often run their game-tying play in practice for Dudley for fun. Said Hill, “I figure if I could throw a good pass to Jared I could throw a good pass to J-Rich.” Richardson joked that Dudley is 0-for-8 when he tries to dunk on that play in practice.
  • The Suns are 6-0 all-time when J-Rich scores 30. … Hedo Turkoglu scored a season-high 18 points, his most as a Sun and his best output since Feb. 24 for Toronto against Portland. He hit five triples in 10 tries (all but one of his shots) for the first time since Jan. 17, 2009, when he was with Orlando. … The Suns’ bench kept the starters fresh with its fifth straight effort of at least 29 points to start the season. The unit as a whole is averaging 39.4 points per game. … The Suns have won 14 of 17 against Memphis and eight of nine in Phoenix. … The Suns played their first double overtime game since Feb. 6, 2008, the day they acquired Shaq, which seems like ages ago. … Phoenix won its 10th game in 11 tries following a loss.