It was easy at first, then it got difficult, but what did you expect? The 2014 Memphis Grizzlies seemingly do everything the hard way.
But no matter how they did it, the Grizzlies beat the Phoenix Suns in Phoenix, 97-91 to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Memphis began the game as though it was going to run, er, pound the Suns out of the gym. Zach Randolph was dominant in the paint and Phoenix seemingly had no answer. The Grizzlies built and maintained a small but double-digit lead for much of the first half. It was 44-31, Memphis, with three minutes left in the half and the Grizzlies on cruise control. Then Phoenix got hot and closed the gap to 46-42 at half.
Phoenix continued to push the ball in the third quarter and took a 53-50 lead. From then on it was a dog-fight, with 15 lead changes in the fourth quarter.
The Suns held a 91-90 lead with 1:27 to play, but the Grizzlies closed the deal with two clutch shots: a Mike Conley three-pointer and a very unlikely steal and one-man "fast" break by Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies closed it out with defensive stops, overcoming some shaky free throw shooting to clinch the victory.
There were lots of heroes for Memphis. Randolph led all scorers with 32 points and was close to unstoppable in the paint most of the night. Mike Miller was on fire, hitting 8 of 11 FG attempts, including some critical threes down the stretch, and finishing with 21. Conley was clutch in the final frame, and Tony Allen had a couple of key steals and a sweet coast-to-coast fast-break to tie the game at the end of the third. Marc Gasol played a solid, if unspectacular game, garnering 18 points and 8 rebounds.
The Grizzlies play their final game of the season Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks. Win, and they move into seventh place and likely face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. Lose, and they finish eighth and get their recent nemesis, San Antonio.