PHOENIX -- Although the Phoenix Suns have been eliminated from the playoffs, coach Alvin Gentry is intent on closing out the season on a high note.
After playing his reserves for the first 5 minutes of the fourth quarter of Monday night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Gentry substituted his first team back into the game.
The result was a 119-110 victory, Phoenix's eighth straight at home.
"Not that I didn't think our bench could do it, I just thought it was a good opportunity for those guys to close out the game and they did a good job," Gentry said. "We want to try and end the season on a positive note."
When Gentry made his move, the Suns led by only 97-94. After that, Shaquille O'Neal hit four late field goals, sealing the victory.
In winning their 45th game of the season, the Suns became only the third team in NBA history to reach that total and not earn a playoff berth. They will finish their disappointing season Wednesday night at home against Golden State.
O'Neal led Phoenix's well-balanced attack with 19 points. Overall, the Suns had seven players in double figures. Steve Nash had 18 points and 12 assists. Jason Richardson collected 18 points, Grant Hill and rookie Robin Lopez had 14 apiece, Matt Barnes 12 and Leandro Barbosa 10. Lopez's total tied his season high.
Hakim Warrick, who hit his first 10 field goal attempts, tying a franchise record for one game, and Rudy Gay led Memphis with 26 points each. O.J. Mayo scored 20, Marc Gasol added 13 points and Mike Conley Jr. scored 12 and tied a franchise record with seven steals.
The Suns were clinging to a precarious 101-99 lead midway through the fourth period when O'Neal made two baby hooks. A short time later, he connected on an alley-oop, then completed his scoring with a layup after Richardson hit a big 3-pointer with 1:11 remaining, giving the Suns a 114-107 lead.
"It wasn't pretty, but they fought hard and stayed in the game and we did what we had to do to get the win," Hill said. "The last two games we hadn't played in the fourth quarter, but the starters came in and responded."
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins called it "an ugly game."
"The Suns, because they're out of the playoffs, have turned it into an exhibition game," he said. "Obviously they had to play their starters because we were right there at the end, but they broke away from us."
Gay praised the Suns' center combination of O'Neal and Lopez.
"Shaq was a big presence down there and Lopez came in the game and he got some offensive rebounds and some dunks," Gay said. "That's what you need."
The first half was close, with the Suns maintaining a 59-57 lead at the break thanks to 19 free throws to only eight for the Grizzlies. However, the Suns' advantage could have been larger had they not missed eight foul shots to Memphis' two misses.
Phoenix used 11 players in the half, and all of them scored, with Hill leading with 11 points, all in the first quarter.
Gay, Mayo and Warrick did the bulk of the Grizzlies' scoring. Gay had 17 points, Mayo 11 and Warrick, who hit all six of his field goals, scored 14.
The Suns had the biggest lead of the half, nine points, 32-25, late in the first period, while Memphis never led by more than four.
Phoenix appeared to take control in the third period, building an 84-72 lead late in the quarter. But the tenacious Grizzlies battled back, cutting the deficit to 86-84 on a 3-pointer by Gay just before the quarter ended. During the comeback, Warrick scored six straight points -- two baskets and two free throws -- and remained perfect from the field (8-for-8).
With their second team on the floor, the Suns opened a 95-86 lead early in the fourth period, and again the Grizzlies rallied. They scored eight consecutive points -- four each by Warrick and Conley before Phoenix took control.
The Suns have scored at least 100 points in 25 consecutive home games, every game this calendar year. ... The Grizzlies started three rookies -- Gasol, Mayo and Darrell Arthur -- for the 56th time this season. ... Gasol is on pace to break his brother Pau's franchise record for field goal percentage by a rookie (.518 in 2001-02). ... Nash is on the brink of becoming the first NBA player with three seasons in which he shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line (Larry Bird is the only other player to do it twice). ... The Suns are on the verge of becoming the first NBA team since the Chicago Bulls in 1980-81 and 1981-82 to shoot 50 percent or better from the field in consecutive seasons. ... O'Neal is on his way to leading the NBA in field goal percentage for the 10th time. ... If Hill plays in Wednesday night's season finale against Golden State, it would be the first time in his career he would have played in all 82 regular-season games.
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