After the importance of a rounded team effort was apparent in the Lakers win versus Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers needed to replicate the effort in order to snag a victory versus the playoff bound Memphis Grizzlies Friday. Kobe Bryant, stepping back on the court after a hard fought triple-double performance against the Mavericks Tuesday, had a lot of assistance from the Lakers’ three big men in Earl Clark, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, who each sported a double-double on their own.
With the Utah Jazz nipping at Los Angeles’ heels only half a game behind for the eighth seed, L.A. entered the game without both Steve Nash and Metta World Peace, who joined Jordan Hill on the injury list. These absences not only made dynamic changes to the roster, with Steve Blake sliding into the starting point guard slot and Jodie Meeks stepping up for World Peace. This also meant that L.A. needed to step up on defense, and disperse said defense from multiple areas around the floor, especially against a team toting high scoring players such as Zach Randolph and Mike Conley.
Memphis, who came into the game with a 21-16 away record, also showcased the younger brother of Pau, Marc Gasol. The Lakers needed another large performance from Pau, who has looked rusty since returning from a foot injury, not only to contain his brother who has a PPG average 14.4 percent field. The offense and facilitating factor Gasol brings to the floor is something the Lakers have missed dearly, and will be welcomed once again in order to grab a victory against the Grizzlies, who entered Staples Center coming off of four straight wins.
Pau Gasol got straight to work for Los Angeles, scoring six of L.A.’s first 10 points and looking to give Randolph some difficulty on both ends, especially in the paint. Zach Randolph was competitive and causing problems for L.A.’s defense from the start, as he and Tayshaun Prince combined for all 12 of the Grizzlies opening points. After making five of their first six shot attempts, however, Memphis suddenly became unable to convert baskets around the Lakers’ defense, shooting 3-14 the remainder of the quarter.
Both teams were as bad as each other in regard to turnovers, with L.A. unsurprisingly giving away the ball four times in comparison to Memphis’ three. Mike Conley attempted to redeem his side in the final few minutes of the quarter, putting away all five of Memphis’ points in the final few minutes of the first.
Earl Clark continued the high intensity he left the floor with against Dallas, drilling the paint and putting away an easy layup within seconds on stepping on the court. The rest of the quarter quickly became the Clark show, as the next two plays after the layup led to points from the big man, as he drained a three-pointer and then slammed in the ball after a miss from Antawn Jamison. Within two minutes of play, Clark became the leading scorer of the game with seven.
The Lakers stepped up on defense and completely took control of the remaining minutes of the quarter, and after an impressive first 12 minutes they had the lead to show for it, up 25-18.
Marc Gasol began to let his emotions take the best of him against his older brother, grabbing a technical after arguing to the referee following a foul call. This helped attribute to a 7-0 L.A. run, which was finally snapped by Marc to cut the lead back down to eight. Jamison continued to showcase his offensive importance from multiple ranges on the floor, grabbing back to back buckets, one being a jumper from three feet while the other being a three-pointer.
Kobe Bryant finally took a rest halfway through the quarter once the Lakers put themselves ahead nine. Jamison, who has been fighting through a wrist injury, had to step off of the floor after falling and landing on the right arm, which shifted the momentum in Memphis’ favor. Suddenly the Grizzles were only down six, and the Lakers were unable to hit any of the buckets they had found success with earlier in the game.
Pau Gasol broke the struggle streak with a jumper from the elbow, notching himself as the highest scorer of the game at the time with 11. Another poor pass from Steve Blake put the Lakers at nine turnovers, and the defense began to crumble shortly after, with a surge from the Grizzlies resulting in the lead being cut to four.
Leave it to Kobe to once again take control of the game, as he drew contact from Jerryd Bayless while throwing up a fade away jumper to not only drain the bucket, but complete the three point play as well. Antawn Jamison was back on the floor, as well, making the wrist look great nailing yet another three-pointer. A tough baseline jumper from Bryant ended the quarter in L.A.’s favor, as the two points pushed the Lakers ahead at the half 46-39.
Despite leading by 13 at one point in the first half, the Lakers’ lead was cut down to one as soon as the quarter began, with more turnovers attributing to the downfall. Within two minutes of second half starting, Memphis put away six points, the Lakers gave away two more turnovers to take their total to 12, and Coach D’Antoni was forced to scream for a timeout.
The team talk didn’t seem to have much effect, as L.A. took back to the floor giving away two more turnovers, enabling the Grizzlies to go on a 10-0 run. The defensive presence and impressive ball movement that allowed the Lakers to grab and solidify a lead in the first place was a complete thing of the past, and suddenly all of the momentum and tenacity on the floor was coming from the team from Memphis. The Lakers started off shooting 0-7 from the field, to add insult to injury.
Pau Gasol finally took control offensively after a plethora of unimpressive shot attempts, drawing a foul and putting away a slam, eventually completing the three point play. Dwight Howard continued the effort on the other end of the floor, swatting away a shot attempt from Randolph. Kobe Bryant also had his rhythm back, nailing a jump shot from the top of the key bringing Memphis’ lead back to two. Steve Blake completed the 8-0 run L.A. was hungry for with a three-pointer, not only forcing a Grizzlies’ timeout, but also putting the Lakers back ahead.
Mike Conley finally snapped the streak, drilling a mid-range shot, followed by another bucket from Marc Gasol. Kobe Bryant hit another bucket to bring his personal total up to 18. Kobe, Gasol, Jamison and Clark all combined for the next nine Lakers’ points, putting L.A. on a 9-0 run until Bayless broke the streak.
An awful start of the quarter forced the Lakers to realize that the Grizzlies were not going to give up a game easily. After going 0-8 to start off the third, Los Angeles made nine of their 11 shots. An impressive team effort in the remaining six minutes helped L.A. regain a lead to enter the fourth quarter, 68-62.
Marc Gasol hit back to back buckets for the Grizzlies to start off the quarter, and after a basket from Dwight Howard, L.A. began stumbling and missing all of their shot attempts. Earl Clark was at it once again to electrify the crowd, blocking Quincy Pondexter’s layup and then topping it off on the other end with a jumper. After Pondexter hit a three to cut the lead to just one, Jodie Meeks buffered the lead with another two points.
Dwight Howard committed foul number five halfway through the quarter, which paved the way for the Grizzlies to retake the lead off of a Bayless jumper. Steve Blake answered with a big three, pushing his personal total to 10 and making the closing minutes of the game a real nail biter. With 10 lead changes so far in the second half with only four minutes left on the clock, it looked like it would be up to Kobe Bryant once again to secure the victory.
Bryant did just that, beating Pondexter with a fade away shot. The importance of defense was displayed the next play, however, as Bayless was able to respond with a bucket without strong opposition from the Lakers. Good ball movement, and also movement without the ball by Gasol allowed Bryant to find him in the post, putting away a big layup to regain a one point lead. Kobe Bryant missed a jumper from the free throw line, and it somehow dropped right to Blake for the rebound, who recycled the play and it eventually ended up back in L.A.’s possession for an out of bounds play.
With 36 seconds left on the clock, the ball was passed into Kobe, who missed the jumper. The Grizzlies regained possession and called for a timeout with 16 seconds remaining. Conley received the ball on the inbound play, and missed the shot attempt. After Dwight Howard went for the rebound, the officials called a foul on Randolph, sending Howard to the free throw line, where he made one bucket. L.A. were ahead two with four seconds remaining on the clock. Conley put up a final shot attempt at the buzzer, and with the miss, the Lakers claimed the victory over Memphis, 86-84.