After an impressive win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night the Lakers were back in action Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies. This was the fourth and final meeting of the regular season for these two teams, with Los Angeles winning the previous three.
The Lakers were looking to improve their impressive home record with one more win against the Grizzlies, and improve their positioning in the Western Conference standings. With the post-season just around the corner, each win, especially those against contending conference opponents, becomes more valuable.
One difference between this game and the previous meeting was the presence of Grizzlies’ forward Rudy Gay. Gay missed the last matchup between the teams due to injury, but was back in action Sunday at the Staples Center. The Lakers would counter Gay with an addition of their own that wasn’t present the last time these teams met: Ramon Sessions.
The Lakers began the game looking a tad sluggish on the offensive end. Forward Pau Gasol took the first four shots from the field for the Lakers, but was unable to hit any of them. The team’s offensive struggles continued for several minutes, as the team was unable to get their first field goal until four minutes into the game. Still, the team was struggling to contain Memphis on the offensive end.
In the first quarter, and for much of the first half, the Lakers looked sluggish and lethargic. Often times the Grizzlies were beating them to loose balls and rebounds, which resulted in easy buckets for Memphis and costly mistakes for the Lakers. Even with Ramon Sessions handling the ball, L.A. had trouble with their ball rotation and found themselves settling for outside jump shots instead of utilizing the size of Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the post.
By the time the first quarter ended the Grizzlies had managed to take a small lead, 28-24. The main cause of the early deficit for Los Angeles was their inability to get the ball into the paint and convert. Their defense was struggling as well, as Memphis shot over 50 percent from the field in the first 12 minutes of play.
After looking slow in the first quarter things got even uglier in the second for the Lakers. Memphis was able to push their lead to double-digits early in the period, and managed to maintain it for the remainder of the half. Gasol’s struggles continued, as he finished the first half shooting just 2-10 with eight points. He did, however, pull down eight rebounds in the first half.
Offensively it was a struggle for the entire Lakers team in the first half other than Andrew Bynum. The young center led the team in scoring with 16 points in the first 24 minutes, but only pulled down one rebound during that time period. In fact, Memphis led the Lakers 27-19 in total rebounding in the first half, essentially eliminating the Lakers’ main advantage.
The reserves struggled for the Lakers as well. With Sessions in the starting lineup the bench mob was led by Steve Blake, who had a very tough first half. Often times he looked lost on the floor, and wasn’t particularly effective on either end of the court. At halftime the team had just three points from the bench, all of which belonged to Matt Barnes.
Even with a running bank-shot from Sessions as time ran out in the first half, the Lakers entered halftime trailing the Grizzlies 56-46.
The third quarter started poorly for the Lakers as Memphis was able to increase their lead. They continued to look overwhelmed on both ends of the floor, and the Grizzlies had all of the energy and momentum on their side. However, when the team had to take Tony Allen off the floor for a brief period of time, things changed for the Lakers. With Allen no longer guarding Bryant, Kobe hit several shots and managed to get the team some offensive rhythm.
From there it was a beautiful display of both offense and defense for the Lakers. They put together a 15-0 run that not only got them back into the game, but gave them their first lead since the first quarter. The run was led by Bryant, who scored more points in the third quarter than he did in the first and second quarters combined.
There was a moment when things got a bit chippy. After Matt Barnes attacked the basket and drew a foul on Marc Gasol, Barnes threw the ball off Gasol and out of bounds. This resulted in a technical foul being called on Barnes, and killed a lot of the momentum that the Lakers had been able to put together.
For Memphis, it was Tony Allen that had the biggest impact on both ends of the floor. Despite being forced to chase Bryant around on defense, Allen also made several big plays on offense, including an and-one basket that allowed Memphis to reclaim the lead late in the quarter. Even with the Lakers big run in the third, Memphis regained the lead heading into the fourth, 73-70.
After managing to work themselves back into the game in the third, the Lakers quickly fell back out of it to start the fourth. At the onset of the final quarter it was once again the Grizzlies that had all the energy and momentum. The Lakers quickly found themselves facing a double-digit deficit once again, and would need another strong run to get back into the game.
Unfortunately for the Lakers it didn’t look like that run was coming. After the Grizzlies re-established their lead the Lakers effort continued to dwindle. It culminated in a missed shot from Bryant and a three-on-none fastbreak from the Grizzlies. While Memphis’ players charged the basket the Lakers stood around watching the Grizzlies run from them with the ball, and with it the win.
Things got even more interesting for the Lakers as the quarter began to wind down. With five minutes left in the game, Mike Brown sent Bryant to the bench after a bad shot from Bryant and some visible frustration on the sidelines. This quickly turned the story from the final score to the situation with Bryant and Brown. Kobe did check back into the game with just under two minutes to go, but by then it was all but over.
The story for the Grizzlies was their ability to counter everything the Lakers threw at them. Whenever L.A. went on a run and managed to get the game manageable or garner any bit of momentum, Memphis answered emphatically. Despite the obvious problems with the Lakers, the Grizzlies played a strong, all-around game that allowed them to get the win on Sunday night.
By the time the final buzzer sounded the Grizzlies had defeated the Lakers at Staples Center, 102-96.