Memphis pulled away late in the first half, closing on an 18-7 run that gave the Grizzlies a 10-point lead at the break. They totally blew it open in the third quarter after Atlanta missed its first seven shots and turned it over three times.
The Hawks were coming off a 4-1 road trip that left them tied with Miami for the Southeast Division lead. But they looked exhausted in their return to Philips Arena, putting up ugly jumpers, playing pedestrian defense and struggling just to hang on to the ball.
Gay and the Grizzlies took advantage, running the court with abandon and slamming down several thunderous dunks. The sparse crowd at Philips Arena began booing in the third quarter, then mostly headed for home early in the fourth as Memphis stretched the lead as high as 30 points.
Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo scored 18 apiece for Memphis, while Mike Conley had 15. Marc Gasol turned in a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Dante Cunningham chipped in with 10 rebounds off the bench.
Josh Smith led the Hawks with 11 points, playing only 19 minutes.
Both teams cleared their benches in the final minutes and the only thing the Hawks could take solace in was avoiding their worst loss of the season, which remains a 22-point defeat at San Antonio.
The Hawks got an omen of things to come when backup center Jason Collins tumbled to the court chasing a loose ball late in the first quarter. His left arm was pinned under Cunningham, leaving the 7-footer writhing on the court with a sprained elbow that finished him off for the night. The Hawks were already shorthanded in the middle with Al Horford recovering from surgery for a torn pectoral muscle that will keep him out for most, if not all, of the regular season.
Atlanta was up 36-35 with 5 minutes left in the opening half. That’s when the game turned Memphis’ way.
Mayo knocked down a jumper, Gasol hit a turnaround hook and Allen laid it in off a nifty pass from Gay. After Jeff Teague missed a jumper, Gay broke ahead of the pack, took a pass from Conley and jammed it down. Then Mayo stole the ball from Joe Johnson, feeding Allen for another layup.
The Hawks got a bit of a spark when Marvin Williams swished a 3-pointer, but Allen matched it with a 3 of his own just ahead of the buzzer, sending the Grizzlies sprinting to the locker room up 53-43.
Atlanta never got closer.
Joe Johnson was smothered by the Grizzlies and finished with 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Ivan Johnson, also with 10, was the only other Hawks player in double figures.
NOTES: The Grizzlies had 58 points in the lane, matching the most allowed by the Hawks this season. They also surrendered 58 in a Jan. 5 game against Miami. ... Gay had three steals and became Memphis’ career leader in that category. ... Memphis outrebounded the Hawks 49-36.