MEMPHIS, Tenn. – After a two-year absence, the Seattle SuperSonics are in the Western Conference playoffs again.
The Sonics clinched a playoff berth Tuesday night with a 102-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. They were led by Ray Allen and Jerome James with 22 points each, James’ a career high.
“This is a big win to come on the road and have some guys down and find a way to win like that is pretty impressive for our team,” said Seattle guard Luke Ridnour. “It feels good to make sure we’re in the playoffs.”
Ridnour keyed a fourth-quarter comeback for Seattle (49-21), which trailed by 14 earlier. His 3-pointer with 2:55 left completed the Sonics’ rally for a 93-92 lead.
Memphis tied the game at 99 after Pau Gasol converted a three-point play with 46 seconds remaining. James, who was 9 of 11 from the field, made one free throw with 27.6 left. Ridnour’s two free throws with 15.2 left gave the Sonics their final margin.
Mike Miller missed a pair of long 3-pointers in the final seconds as the Grizzlies lost their third straight and fourth out of their last five.
“They got good looks, but Lord willing, they didn’t go in,” Ridnour said.
Ridnour finished with 15 points for Seattle, while reserve Damien Wilkins added 13. Reggie Evans scored 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and kept Seattle in the game as the Sonics struggled in the first half.
The Sonics were without Rashard Lewis, their second-leading scorer, who sat out with a right foot injury, and reserve forward Danny Fortson, who is recovering from a left ankle sprain.
“We won a game that a lot of people didn’t think we could win,” said Seattle coach Nate McMillan, whose team leads the Northwest Division by 10 1/2 games over Denver.
Gasol, in his best performance since returning March 20 from a foot injury, led Memphis with 24 points and eight rebounds. Bonzi Wells scored 17 and Shane Battier added 16 points. Stromile Swift and Earl Watson finished with 15 each for the Grizzlies.
While Seattle was celebrating its playoff-clinching win, Memphis was wondering how its current slide could affect its playoff hopes. The Grizzlies are in the seventh spot, but only one-half game ahead of Denver and 2 1/2 in front of Minnesota.
“It’s frustrating to lose at any time,” Gasol said. “At this point in the season, it’s more frustrating because we’re trying to move forward. It especially hurts to lose at home. We should protect our home court better.”
The Sonics struggled from the field in the first half. Allen missed his first five shots before taking a seat with two fouls, and Seattle hit only 24 percent in the period. That gave Evans plenty of rebound opportunities and he grabbed nine in the first quarter, including six offensive boards.
The Sonics shot 32 percent in the half as Memphis built the lead to as many as 13 before carrying a 50-44 edge at halftime.
“As poorly as we shot the ball at the half we were only down a few points,” McMillan said.
The Grizzlies got a burst from Swift for the first time since he returned three games ago from an ankle injury. He had 13 points in the first half.
James was 5 of 6 from the field in the half for 11 points to lead Seattle. James continued to score inside after the break, backing Gasol down for easy baskets.
“He tried to be as physical as he possibly could,” James said of Gasol’s defense, “but he gave up about 2 inches or so, and about 60 pounds.”
Gasol had an offensive rally in the third, scoring 11 points in the quarter. Along with Battier’s 10 points in the period, Memphis led 78-72 entering the fourth. But the Grizzlies couldn’t hang on as Seattle connected on 10 of 13 shots in the final period.
“They just made plays when they had to,” Memphis coach Mike Fratello said of the Sonics’ 30-point fourth quarter. “We had some critical turnovers and couldn’t make the critical plays at the end.”
Ronald “Flip” Murray started in Rashard Lewis’ spot and had four points for Seattle. … Reggie Evans of Seattle got a technical for arguing his third foul. He bounced back to have his sixth double-double of the season. … The Grizzlies shot 55 percent for the game, despite hitting 3 of 16 on 3-pointers.
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