Let’s just get one thing over with – Phew! Andrew Bynum survived a Memphis Grizzlies game in January!
Okay, now about tonight’s game…
The Lakers are 10 games into the season, and tonight’s game has been their best collective effort yet. Led by Kobe Bryant, five Lakers scored in double figures, three had double-doubles and, despite the monstrosity under the turnover column, they played a very talented Memphis Grizzlies team tough (even without the injured Zach Randolph) and managed to come away with a victory.
Great Distribution (in more ways than one) – Despite a great game from Bryant, tonight wasn’t just the Kobe Show. This game was won because of Pau Gasol & Andrew Bynum’s 30 rebounds and 28 points. The Lakers’ two big men have such an obvious big brother/little brother relationship and it showed today when, after sending a one handed behind the back pass Bynum (who scored), Gasol pumped both fists and hugged Bynum tightly, patting the younger teammate on the back of the head with pride. Gasol only attempted eight shots and converted on five, but he grabbed 15 boards and though he’s not getting as many attempts, with Bynum looking to contribute more of his offense, it doesn’t look like he minds. Gasol’s game is predicated on a lot more than just scoring. As seen tonight, the man’s awareness of the floor and his ability to set up teammates is just as valuable as his capacity to score, and his capacity, as we all know, is pretty amazing.
Bynum didn’t have one of his best offensive games, going just 5-14 for his 15 points, but he’s learning that scoring is not the only way to help his team, and the 15 rebounds and two steals showed he’s catching on. He’s still having issues playing in the middle of or playing out of a crowd. Whether he should score or pass the ball seems to be a decision that Bynum still grapples with when he’s faced with a double, and sometimes triple team. His five turnovers were the result of his indecision.
This game was also won because of Matt Barnes’ energy and all-out hustle. Barnes scored 15 points on 5-9 (including two from downtown), he had 10 rebounds, two assists, three steals and a block. To say Barnes was all over the place tonight would be an understatement. Most of his blocks came from behind unsuspecting Grizzlies and a good part of his scoring game from running in transition in time to meet the pass for a fast break hoop. He played over 35 minutes tonight, over the 13 minutes played by Metta World Peace. If he continues this type of play, and MWP continues to struggle, Coach Mike Brown’s rotations are going to get much tighter.
Chipping in for the win were also Steve Blake’s renewed confidence and savvy, not to mention Troy Murphy’s easygoing production. THIS version of Steve Blake was the one we were all waiting for last season. Who knew that the triangle limited him that much? In this season’s system, Blake is allowed to be Blake, and that is a traditional, tempo-controlling, spot-up shooting, playmaking point guard. And Troy Murphy? He’s the quiet stat stuffer on the floor. Tonight he had six points on 3-5, six rebounds and a steal. The Sixth Man of the Year version of Lamar Odom he is not, but as part of a collective to come off the pine, he’s as steady a veteran as you can get.
Bryant’s unwillingness to let an injury deter him from leading this Laker team has been the greatest contribution of all. 11-22 for 26 points and nine assists, all with an injury in the joint that produces every highlight. No matter how “old” Bryant is considered as he plays his 16th year in the NBA and no matter how badly the league wants to crown a younger, more dynamic player, Bryant defies them all. At 33 years old, he still confounds opposing players with this footwork, tonight taking Rudy Gay for a shuffle, and then whizzing by him down the baseline for a dunk. He can still rise up over anyone and score from behind the arc. He can still lure anyone into fouling him on a head fake. People can have their Lebron Jameses, Dwight Howards, Kevin Durants and Chris Pauls. There is only one Kobe Bryant, and most of us would take him over any other.
Assists – The spread of point production in this game was due to another factor – the distribution of, well, distributions. The Lakers assisted on 24 of their 35 made field goals. Bryant led the game with nine dimes, and, with the exception of Bynum, MWP, every Laker who played handed out an assist. Without a doubt, spreading the wealth would win a lot more games, especially when they’re not marred by turnovers (more on that later)
Rebounds – The Lakers outrebounded the Grizzlies 53-34, a whopping 19-rebound difference. It helps when you have two 7-footers, but rebounds, just like defense, is won on the heels of effort, and the home put a lot of work into their efforts on the glass tonight.
Turnovers – The low point for the Lakers, not just in this game but also for the entire season thus far, has been turnovers. Tonight they outdid themselves, giving away the ball 27 times and helping the Grizzlies score 31 points as a result. 27 turnovers! A complaint this season has been that the Lakers haven’t blown out any teams, and the reason for that would be their inability to keep the ball safe. In the fourth quarter, four and half minutes before scoring their first basket, the Lakers committed four turnovers that turned a 10-point lead (which used to be a 14 point lead in the third quarter) into a mere six-point advantage. And they continued to do so, over and over again, well into the last seconds of the game when, with 8.9 left, Barnes gave way and O.J. Mayo was able to score. With the New Year comes opportunity for resolutions, and the Lakers must turn over a new leaf (pun totally intended). These turnovers are deadly, especially against young teams who thrive on running.
Transition defense – Some teams are just slow to react. Other teams just don’t bother, and the Lakers are starting to fall into the latter category. Collecting offensive rebounds they seem to have no problem with, but when they are unable to secure one, like they did tonight, a team like the Grizzlies will run out and score, which they did…often. There is too much waiting around for someone else to run back on defense. EVERYONE should be running back on defense. It’s not rocket science, folks – missed shots can lead to long rebounds, which can lead to fast break points.
Turnovers and inefficient offense in the fourth quarter aside (12 points on 5-18 to be exact), the Lakers played a well-rounded game. The defense only allowed 41% shooting for 82 points and everyone got involved (in the good and in the bad). In the end, the Lakers got what they ultimately wanted – a victory.