Full disclosure: this game was happening at the same time that my father in-law was celebrating a pretty big birthday. I don’t know if it makes me a bad son-in-law that I was carrying around my phone while the action played on my game-time app or not, but I’m pretty sure it confirms the fact that I’m an okay Lakers’ fan. What can I say, the push for the playoffs make it so it’s hard to turn away even when I surely should have been more engaged in the festivities around me.
Anyways, let’s just say I’m pretty glad I had the game on because this one was fun.
The Lakers took down the Grizzlies 86-84, out gritting and out grinding the team who adopted that style as their motto. This game only had 91 possessions — several fewer than the Lakers normally play at. It was played in a style that best fits the Grizzlies, but the Lakers adapted quite well to their surroundings by playing tough, physical game and matching their opponent blow for blow.
The heroes of this game were easily the Lakers’ old guard, Kobe Byrant and Pau Gasol. Both are familiar with this type of contest and took it upon themselves to lead the Lakers through the entire game.
As he’s done lately, Kobe was simply brilliant in logging a very hard 42 minutes. Facing off against no less than 4 different defenders throughout the night, Kobe had to work hard on every single possession, whether in isolation, in the P&R, or working off the ball. The Grizzlies crowded him at every opportunity, but Kobe simply continued to fight through the defense and work for makable shots. And thought he only shot 10-23 to get his 24 points, it was his drive to fight through fatigue that was just as big as every single one of those points. The Lakers needed him to do it all on offense tonight (especially with Steve Blake struggling to run the offense while Mike Conley hounded him) and Kobe provided delivered. It wasn’t the perfect night and he was forced into too many end of the clock shots to try and salvage possessions, but without his effort throughout the game, there’s no way the Lakers win this game.
As for the Spaniard, he too was great when he was needed most. With Dwight Howard struggling with fouls and having to deal with Marc Gasol’s big body, Pau played a fantastic all court game to help relieve Kobe of some of the offensive burden. The elder Gasol scored 19 points on 8-14 shooting and got his in a variety of ways. He hit spot up jumpers as the defense sagged. He hit in between floaters when he received passes out of the P&R only to see the defense step up. He was also able to get shots right at the rim out of his post up game and via hard cuts to the rim. When you add in his 9 rebounds and solid defense, Pau was a real difference maker in this game and deserves immense praise. Just as the Lakers need him most, he’s starting to find his stride.
The rest of the Lakers were a mixed bag but most contributed solidly. Jamison and Clark were both big with mirrored stat-lines of 13 points and 5 rebounds. Jamison was his usual self, mixing long jumpers with smart cuts to the rim where he could finish inside when the defense got caught looking at Kobe, Pau, or Dwight. Clark, for the 2nd straight game, showed great activity all over the floor on both sides of the ball, getting his hands on rebounds and playing a controlled offensive game. I especially liked Clark’s demeanor while on the floor, showing an attitude that reflected how tuned in he was to the action.
As mentioned earlier Dwight didn’t have his best game, getting into foul trouble in the 2nd half and never really finding an offensive rhythm against the Grizzlies’ bruising front line. But he did grab 10 rebounds and did a solid job on Zach Randolph when they were matched up in the 1st half. Steve Blake struggled with Conley’s ball pressure and made some lazy passes that really cost the Lakers in the turnover department (he had a team high 5 of the Lakers’ 18 on the night), but he also hit a pretty big three pointer in the 3rd quarter that capped off a run that brought the Lakers back into the lead after Memphis wrestled control of the game to start the 2nd half. Meeks had a really rough shooting night overall (1-5, 2 points), but hustled all over the floor on both sides of the ball and chipped in on the glass with 5 defensive rebounds.
Give loads of credit to the Grizzlies in this game as well. Several times in this game it looked like the Lakers had seized control, only Memphis to battle back and keep the game close. They were aggressive all over the floor and never looked out of sorts even when the Lakers went on a run. Mike Conley showed good poise all night and really controlled the tempo of the game on both ends, attacking with hesitation dribbles on one end and then disrupting the Lakers’ offense on the other. The big man duo of Randolph and (Marc) Gasol also played well, though Zach didn’t shoot that well in mostly settling for his mid-range jumper.
Overall, though, this game was more about the fact that the Lakers could play the Grizzlies style and still come out on top. Earlier this season there’s no way the Lakers win this game, but tonight they found a way. They clamped down on defense, contested shots, and then hit the glass hard out-rebounding the Grizzlies by 7 and only allowing 8 offensive rebounds on 48 missed field goals. Down the stretch they made enough plays to win, including a key Dwight FT to push the lead to two sandwiched between two defensive stops (including the one that sealed the game).
Considering the Lakers needed this win to stay a half game up on the Jazz, this may be their most important win of the season. They battled their hearts out and pulled it out at the end. I don’t know what this says about their playoff chances, but it definitely shows they’re going to give all they have to get there.