72-55 in favor of the Grizzlies in the third quarter. Oh these wretched road games! Arriving in Memphis, TN yesterday with a 7-14 record away from the Staples Center, the Lakers remain at a loss as to why they’re so dominant at home (18-2) but play so poorly on the road. And if they could lose two games in a row to the lowly Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards, who knew what evils lay ahead in tonight’s game, even if the Grizzlies were playing without two of their best players in Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay.
The evils, apparently, were reincarnated in one Tony Allen and another Marreese Speights, not to mention “el tanque” himself, Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies didn’t need Randolph and Gay to defeat the Lakers. They seemed to be doing just fine with the back-ups that they had. In the first quarter, Tony Allen, who averages just about 10 ppg, had already rattled off 11 points on 5-9 from the field. By halftime, Marc Gasol had 12 points on 6-10, more than twice what his big brother, Pau who had barely produced up to that time (five points, two rebounds, two assists.). And then there was Speights, who seemingly came out of nowhere, and scored 15 points on 7-8 in the third quarter.
Despite putting in a 30-point second quarter to get within two points of a once nine-point lead going into halftime, the Lakers came into the third quarter and immediately gave up a 20-4 run to the Grizzlies to instantly fall behind by 17 points. The momentum that helped them catch up in the second quarter hadn’t yet shown up seven minutes into the second half and the Lakers seemed headed towards another road loss. Fortunately, they still had time in the game, not to mention some fight in themselves, and they countered that early quarter Memphis run with one of their own, a 16-8 surge that pulled them within striking distance going into the fourth.
After shooting almost 50% in the first three quarters and forcing 13 Laker turnovers, the Grizzlies went cold (38% cold) and relatively less aggressive, as the Lakers got hot in the fourth (61%), led by Kobe Bryant’s 11 points. The Lakers seemingly crawled their way up a hill in the fourth quarter; their final three shots getting them over the lead and then, after a game-tying jumper from Marc Gasol, forced the first overtime.
That’s right – a FIRST overtime in which each team scored six points apiece on a combined 5-16 from the field. And when Bryant’s final attempt didn’t go, they were forced to play a SECOND overtime, and though Memphis played twice as many possessions to take this game on their home floor, they were half as effective and efficient, and they fell 13-8 in the final five minutes.
Andrew Bynum – Feed the beast and he will fight for you. The beast is young Bynum and his fight is reflected by 37 points on 15-18 from the field, 7-8 from the free throw line, 16 rebounds, an assist, steal and block. There is no other way to describe Bynum’s game this season than beastly – 83% from the field and 88% from the charity stripe, not to mention the double-digit boards. Many are still waiting for him to fall, literally. Fall when a player knocks him over during a game, fall incorrectly and re-aggravate an old injury – everyone, from critics to fans alike, has been waiting for Andrew Bynum to either prove them right or disappoint them, but 38 games into his season, and the kid continues to get better, get stronger, get more confident. In his postgame interview, he credited his improved game to sessions with assistant coach, Darvin Ham, who has been helping him with his footwork. It’s paying off! Guarded by Marc Gasol on the baseline, Bynum swiftly dribbled around him and scored on a reverse layup. Constantly moving without the ball, he was the recipient of lob after lob because he’s mastered the timing. Stuck inside a double team (which has become commonplace since his emergence this season), he’s learning to send it out quicker or work his way to the basket. He’s working hard, outside of game time, to improve upon, if not excel further, in his abilities. To think – is this just the beginning for him? He played almost 49 minutes tonight and seemed barely winded in the end. Oh to be 24 years old.
Kobe Bryant – Unlike Bynum, he’s definitely NOT 24 years old anymore. He will, in fact, be turning 34 this coming August, but leave it to Bryant to defy age and time. Driving into the lane for a dunk to end the first half, and then scoring on another after running the court on a fast break – it’s so unfair but so amazing to marvel at it. It is games like this from Bryant that make this Laker team a contender – 34 points on 11-25, 11-12 from the free throw line, nine rebounds, five assists and a steal. With five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers behind by give points, Bryant hit two free throws, followed by a reverse layup. He then assisted on Bynum’s layup, hit a three pointer, then passed to Pau Gasol for a dunk. 11 straight points for the Lakers at the capable hands of Bryant. And the best thing about his game tonight? Not getting in anyone’s way, especially Bynum, who attempted 18 shots. Think yet another light bulb has turned on in Kobe’s head?
Pau Gasol – It wasn’t the best shooting night for Gasol (6-14 from the field) and his rebounds were lacking, but he led the team in assists with eight dimes, had a steal and blocked two shots. In what must be a stressful week for Gasol, with the trade deadline looming over his psyche even more so now than it has been all season, the Lakers’ forward is still fighting for himself, for his team, and it’s never been more obvious than it was today. Sitting on five points on 2-5 from the field in just under 18 minutes of play after the first half, Gasol could have allowed dejection to follow him into the second half. Instead he scored nine more points and made some great plays to help get the win. With the dominant play of Bynum this season, Gasol has ceded his second option position to the young center, who he has always seemed to have such affection for. Even with the possibility of being traded (again!) on his mind, he has remained the constant professional, continuing to work hard for this team and never letting his mouth run off or his emotions get the best of him. His projected status when Thursday afternoon rolls around remains a rumor mill of possibilities, but until then Gasol is a Laker, receiving bounce passes from Kobe Bryant, sending lobs to Andrew Bynum, and shooting face-up jumpers.
Free throws – The Lakers shot 28-34 free throws compared to the Grizzlies 5-5. That they get to the line is one thing. Converting those free throws is another, and the Lakers took advantage of this advantage. To think, 26 of their 116 final points, came from the charity stripe.
Steve Blake – Blake’s stat lines since his return aren’t exactly ones to remember, but he’s depended on for more than just scoring or passing the ball, and tonight was a great example. Commonly known as Derek Fisher’s back-up, Blake is predominantly the leader off the bench, but in crunch time, with the team needing a steady hand, it wasn’t Fisher who was called to finish the game. It was Steve Blake. After playing just over eight and half minutes in the first half, Blake played half of the third quarter, all of the fourth and then all 10 minutes of the two overtimes. He may have only scored nine points, but it was the timing of his three threes that made the difference. The first came late in the third quarter when a Memphis lead went from 11 to just eight. In the closing seconds of the third quarter, his three turned a 12-point lead back down to nine. And then to open the second overtime, he received a pass from Pau Gasol and hit a three from the corner to give the Lakers an early lead. He played just over 36 minutes to Fisher’s 22. Could this be a preview of changes to come?
Turnovers – The Lakers won a hard-fought game tonight, which they accomplished despite turning over the ball 18 times. The league leader in steals, Memphis took 15 possessions away from the Lakers and scored on 22 fast break points because of it. Especially on the road, where a turnover can easily turn into an exciting fast break that can incite the crowd, the Lakers need to take better care of the ball.
The road record now reads 8-14, with 11 more road games to go. This was a great win for the Lakers, especially being down 17 points in the third quarter. For them to dig themselves out of that hole to win the game is a big deal and the hope is that this is something they can carry with them in tomorrow’s game against the New Orleans Hornets. They are, like the Pistons and Wizards, not of the elite crop this season, but if the Lakers plan to notch another road win, they have to respect all their opponents, regardless of their records, and they have to play a focused game from tip-off to the final buzzer.