The Phoenix Suns were in a familiar spot, albeit a bit later in the game, trailing by 18 points a minute into the fourth quarter Monday night in Memphis.
Just as they did during Friday’s epic comeback in Phoenix, Goran Dragic and the bench stormed back with a 13-2 spurt to cut the Memphis lead to seven, but the Suns would get no closer as Rudy Gay and Mike Conley answered with back-to-back treys and the Grizzlies cruised to a 109-99 victory.
“It was actually pretty much the same [as last Friday’s game], except they held on at the end,” said Suns forward Hakim Warrick. “We had an uphill battle the whole game. They made the plays down the stretch to keep us from winning.”
Although Phoenix lost the battle of the boards by a slim 45-41 margin, the story of this game was Zach Randolph’s work on the glass. He just ate the Suns up to record a rare 23-20 performance that included eight offensive rebounds.
Randolph was on his way to such a performance on Friday as well in his first game back from a bruised tailbone when he ate the Suns up for four points and seven boards in the first quarter. But a combination of Channing Frye’s defense and most likely fatigue limited him to just eight points and seven boards throughout the rest of the double overtime affair.
But there was no fatigue for Randolph tonight, although he said afterward he’s not even 100 percent yet. The man just has a knack for offensive rebounds, as there’s a reason he led the league in that department by a good amount last season, collecting 4.1 per game while the next closest player (Brendan Haywood) was at 3.6. At times a Suns player had Randolph boxed out and there were multiple Suns in the vicinity yet Randolph would still chase down the offensive board.
“He’s just a guy that knows how to use his body,” Warrick said. “He’s just smart and knows where the ball is going to be. I don’t know if he can dunk, but he can rebound. You just can’t teach that. He’s a guy like Dennis Rodman. He knows when the ball is going to come. He watches the rotation of the ball and is able to go get it. He is able to use his body to box you out so he doesn’t have to jump.”
Added Gentry: “Zach is a different animal. He’s going to do that to a lot of people, not just us. He’s a tremendous player and probably as good of an offensive rebounder as there is in the league. We’ve got to battle and do the best job we can, but the other guys we have to try and keep off the boards.”
Randolph will destroy many teams on the offensive glass, but this just continues a season-long trend of ineptitude on the defensive boards for Phoenix, although granted that is a byproduct of how small the Suns play.
Entering the game the Suns ranked second to last in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage by corralling 66.4 percent of the available defensive rebounds. They were just below that in this one by boarding 63.6 percent of the caroms on the defensive end.
On a night when both teams shot a similar percentage, those extra chances as well as Phoenix’s 22 turnovers once again were the difference.
“It’s the same thing with us,” Gentry said. “Obviously, the offensive rebounding, the turnovers and points off turnovers all seem to be our Achilles’ heel. You look at their fast break points and I think they had 26 of them. I’m not sure but probably 80 percent of those came off our turnovers. I didn’t think our transition defense was very poor but I don’t think you can defend turnovers. That was probably the biggest thing.”
You certainly can’t blame Grant Hill for this loss. He played his heart out on the way to 19 points and 12 boards while bouncing back from Friday’s ugly 1-for-9 performance against this same team to hit 8-of-10 shots. Nobody in this game aside from Randolph grabbed more boards than the age-less one.
Warrick also stepped up with a nice 16-point performance in his return to the city where he played the first four seasons of his career. Warrick played a team-high 35 minutes and was particularly good during a 5-for-5, 14-point first half.
On the flip side, Robin Lopez just didn’t have it once again. He scored two points and grabbed two boards but most critically was a -15 in his 14 minutes of play. That means the Suns actually won the 34 minutes he didn’t play by five, and that shouldn’t happen in a game where rebounding played such a critical role.
As opposed to Warrick, who is such a lightning rod exploding toward the hoop, Lopez just doesn’t possess that burst toward the rim and he looks almost skittish on interior shots. The Suns need him to enjoy the breakout year many had him pegged for if they want to be a decent team, and he may yet just need some time to get his rhythm and confidence back after his back injury.
Finally, the Suns entered the game behind only the Lakers and Heat in three-point shooting percentage, hitting at a 41.2 percent clip, but in this one they clanked 22-of-31 for a 29.0 percent performance behind the arc.
That’s not going to get it done on a night in which Zach Randolph turned into a monster inside, as the Grizzlies got their sweet revenge for the game the Suns stole from them Friday night.