There is never any shame in losing to the defending champions, especially when one of your main offensive contributors is out, but you can't help but feel a little disappointed by this one. The Grizzlies never held a significant lead over the Lakers during the second half, so its not fair to say they blew the game, but they certainly could have done a better job of getting over the hump.
One more than one occasion, the Grizzlies cut an eight or nine point Lakers lead to two thanks to transition buckets and key stops. But every time they got close, the Lakers had an answer. A Lamar Odom three with a little over six minutes left made it a five-point game and after Marc Gasol missed an easy shot at the basket on the following possession, Ron Artest, who had been struggling all night long, hit the dagger three and proceeded to beat his chest in celebration.
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After missing a potential game winner at the buzzer in Memphis last season - and after playing a pretty horrid three quarters of basketball - Artest got a bit of redemption on the Grizzlies, who came close to taking the season series from the Lakers only to fall short because of their inability to reach that next level to finish out the ball game. We saw them do it against the Magic last week, but the Lakers are a completely different animal and whatever that quality is, that indefinable ability to pull of the big wins.
In the grand scheme of things, this loss hurts, as the Grizzlies are in a tough battle for a playoff spot in the crowded Western Conference. But on a smaller scale, this one matters even more. This was a game in which the Lakers were most vulnerable. Kobe Bryant was having a very off night from the field, the Lakers missed 14 free throws (converting just 60% of their freebies), which is just about as bad of a night as they will have from the line all year, and all of the Lakers forwards had off nights. Ron Artest was just four-of-11 from the field, Pau Gasol just six-of-11 (mediocre for him) and Lamar Odom missed nine of his 14 shots off the bench.
With the Lakers on the brink of caving and letting the game get away because of their team struggles, the Grizzlies failed to score (of course, some credit goes to the Lakers' defense, but the Grizzlies straight up missed shots) and when they were unable to capitalize, the defending champs worked their magic. Odom hit his three, Artest nailed his and Odom added an And-1. The opportunities to win this ballgame were there for the Grizzlies but with their posts struggling to score all game, Rudy Gay was unable to step up and rescue his team, which is a quality he'll need to develop for the Grizzlies to take the next step. Because if Memphis can't find someone to rescue the team when things are going slowly, then we'll keep seeing the same results when it comes to their stagnant and ineffective offense.
Game notes after the break.
- Just a day after I proclaimed the Zach Randolph was a big time all-star stub, Randolph went out and he the worst game of his season against the Lakers. It's not necessarily surprising that he had his worst game of the year against the likes of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom, but the magnitude of his struggles was a bit shocking. He finished the game with just eight points, his lowest scoring output of the season in games that he played more than 20 minutes in, on abysmal two-of-14 shooting. He had 14 rebounds, three of which were offensive, but his usually successful attempts at putbacks were foiled every time by the Lakers' bigs. Rough night for Z-Bo.
- Marc Gasol wasn't that much better. He was five-of-14 from the field and while he was a bit better on defense than Randolph, he was just about as bad overall. He missed some shots he'd normally make and he clearly wasn't able to fool his brother as well as he confuses the rest of the league.
- That being said, one impressive quality from Gasol and Randolph I saw in this game was their ability to pass out of the post. With Marc, we already know that he is a superb passer, but even Zach was excellent when moving the ball tonight. The Lakers chose to cheat over on Gasol and Randolph when they posted up and almost every time they saw the second defender coming over, they made the right pass to the cutter. Randolph finished with four assists and Gasol had three of his own.
- Sam Young played a good game tonight. Overall, his nine-of-19 shooting wasn't exactly efficient but he attacked the basket with passion and when Kobe decided to play off of him, he took the mid-range jumper with confidence. Young is not a complete player by any stretch but his 22 points were much needed and I'd argue that he was the best player on the floor for the Grizzlies in this one simply because every move he made at purpose and because he didn't back down from the challenge that Bryant provided.
- Mike Conley torched the Lakers in each of the first three games of the year, so I guess it was expected to see him struggle in this one. 13 points on 12 shots for Conley, who looked like he would be well on his way to another great performance in the first quarter but then he settled into his usual passive role and didn't look to attack the Lakers for the rest of the game.
- Tony Allen had just six points in this game and the one three he took was one of the uglier set shots I've seen all year, but he dogged Kobe and he showed why he is a valuable asset for the Grizzlies. Defensively, Allen is excellent and his performance tonight against Bryant, holding him to 19 points on six-of-17 shooting, was a great example of that.
- Boy are the Lakers scary when Steve Blake is hitting that corner three and Shannon Brown is moving constantly off-the-ball on offense. When they can have their second unit play as a group rather than just going into the post like it was last year when Farmar and Brown (who didn't have a great shot at the time), their offense is so versatile. And when Matt Barnes returns and starts getting easy buckets around the rim, crashing the glass and playing his physical defense, that's a heck of a ballclub.
Next up for the Grizzlies are the Thunder tomorrow night. That's a big game, as the Grizzlies are now just one game above .500 with a ways to go to get back into the top eight in the West.