Rudy Gay appeared on the FedExForum scoreboard midway through the third quarter Sunday evening, and the crowd immediately erupted with thunderous applause.

The standing ovation was a fitting show of appreciation for the fifth-year forward.

Memphis will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 thanks in large part to Gay's career-best effort this season. The 24-year-old began the season as a prolific scorer and then showed improvement in every aspect of his game until suffering a season-ending partial left shoulder separation on Feb. 15.

Gay, speaking publicly for the first time since undergoing surgery March 25, said he felt the weight of helping the Griz achieve a postseason berth more than living up to the $84 million contract he signed in the offseason.

"We all had that feeling coming into the season," said Gay, who wears a special sling on his left arm. "It's the natural progression. If we hadn't made the playoffs we would have felt like we didn't do enough. I didn't want to have that feeling. I love being able to progress. Since I've been here, I feel like I've progressed and the team's gotten better. It's a good feeling to see my teammates happy, and going out there and playing for something."