It wasn’t a pretty final quarter for the Lakers, but they were able to hold off the Grizzlies 107-102 to move to 5-5 on the season and earn their first back to back wins of the year.
For most of the game the story was how the Lakers were able to speed up the Grizzlies and get them to play at the Lakers tempo. The Lakers pressured defensively, contested shots, forced misses, and then sprinted the other way to get into their sets quickly. The result was Memphis playing on their heels and the Lakers taking full advantage by getting into the paint off the dribble and either finishing at the cup or kicking the ball back out to cycle through perimeter options.
Brandon Ingram and Brook Lopez were they two key players in these sequences. Ingram’s driving was relentless and he exploded in the first half for 18 points on 7-9 shooting, with nearly everything coming right at the rim. Whether in the half-court or when pushing in transition, Ingram’s eyes were square on the rim and he used his combination of handle, long stride, and length to get layups over and around whichever Grizzly got in his way.
As for Lopez, he spaced the floor beautifully for those Ingram drives but also did damage when he got touches beyond the arc. Lopez hit 4 of his 6 shots from distance en route to a (team high) 21 point night where he served as the ballast for the Lakers attack once again. Beyond his outside shot, he also found creases in the paint, capitalizing on a scrambling and switching Memphis defense — including a much needed late bucket to keep the Lakers in front when the momentum had clearly swung.
That momentum shift is, of course, the other major storyline from this game. After succumbing to the Lakers style for most of the first 3 quarters, Memphis steadied themselves and made a big push to get back into things. A combination of their tightened defense and the Lakers reserve unit reverting to bad habits of isolating and over-dribbling, dragged their tempo to a crawl which is exactly how the Grizzlies want to play. By the time Walton turned back to his starters, the shift in style was already complete and the Lakers had to try to out grit-and-grind the Grizz to a win.
And if there were 5 more minutes in this game, the Lakers may not have been able to hold on. But, they’d built up a big enough lead and made just enough plays down the stretch to outlast Memphis. The result is a much needed W and consecutive wins for the first time this season. The Lakers are now .500 through 10 games and I’m not sure if anyone could have seen that coming when the schedule released considering the number of playoff caliber teams they’ve faced.
The Lakers now begin a 4 game road trip to the east coast and midwest where more challenges await. We’ll see if their defensive intensity and pace of play can travel with them. Before that, though, enjoy this win. The closing period induced more anxiety than anyone would have wanted, but the final score brought the relief sought. And now, onto the notes…
*Shout-out to KCP. 15 points (on 11 shots), 7 rebounds, with a single assist, steal, and block. He also had a huge sequence in the closing minute stopping a layup attempt with a clean strip and then sinking a big pull up jumper on the other end to give the Lakers a sliver of breathing room. Just a really good all around game from Caldwell-Pope.
*Another double-double from Kyle Kuzma with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Kuz wasn’t as explosive as he’s been in recent games with his scoring, but he played under control and never really forced the action, instead taking what the defense gave him. I’d like for the Lakers to run a few more actions for him to get him some shots, but part of the beauty of Kuzma’s game is how he can manufacture points out of the general flow of the offense.
*I liked Randle’s overall play even though he was part of the unit in the 3rd quarter that allowed the Grizzlies to get their foothold and begin their comeback. Randle finished the game with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists while also flashing some really good defense for long stretches — which very much mirrors how he’s been playing lately. So, overall, I think he was a net positive. But, still, I wish he and Clarkson could have been a bit more sharp in that 3rd quarter.
*Speaking of Clarkson, he had a really strong first shift this game. He was showing great burst to get into the paint and, once there, flashed a nice balance between getting his own shot and finding teammates for easy baskets. It felt like before we could even take a breath, Jordan had racked up a handful of assists and was looking like rookie year Clarkson with how well he was setting up his mates.
*Lonzo finished with 9 points on only 3-13 from the floor, including 1-8 from deep. His shooting has not yet come around and while that’s a concern as long as it lasts, I’m not necessarily worried at this point. Besides an airball on a 3, his most of his misses were either short or long, but on target otherwise. Of course you want the ball to actually go in the basket, but a lot of these shots were good looks. Beyond the shooting, though, Lonzo did have 9 assists and 5 rebounds, so he contributed positively in other ways. Not his best game by any means, but a nice enough bounce back from his previous couple of contests.
*9-27 from the Lakers on 3’s tonight — which, when you consider Lonzo went 1-8 is actually pretty good. If they can hover around league average they should see better offensive efficiency overall.
*I liked that the Lakers had 25 assists on their 40 made baskets. I thought they moved the ball well overall, even when accounting for the stagnation for the last quarter or so. If this team can really begin to find their stride as a high assist team and their defense remains relatively consistent, they’ll be a tough out even if they don’t win a ton of games.