In the first half they held the Grizzlies to 39 points in no small part due to a defense that looked frantic. Crisp rotations and switches were routine throughout their possessions as they looked like a respectable defensive team that actually gave two damns about playing defense outside of Dwight Howard. The transition defense is still an issue, as the Grizzlies scored 19 points in the fast break, but in that first half they looked like they were on a mission.
And then the second half happened, missed rotations happened, and getting worked by Jerryd Bayless and Mike Conley happened. But for one half the Lakers looked great on defense, and for the second half they did enough to hold onto the win, making key stops when they needed them.
The Lakers offense wasn't pretty enough to win this game on its own. In fact, it was anything but. Yes, Kobe Bryant made some ridiculously high degree of difficulty shots to give them enough punch to propel the Lakers ahead. The ball found energy, but it was to the other team often. As a team they had 18 turnovers, with Steve Blake donating five of those.
Still, it was nice to see the Kobe and Pau pick and pop game working. Pau ended the night with 19 points, but it was with a mix of his mid-range, post , and roll man game that was promising for a player still getting the cobwebs off after having to sit out for an extended period. His dive to the basket late in the fourth quarter to ultimately put the Lakers over the top was vintage Kobe-Pau basketball, and was a reminder that "damn these guys can play together".
Also, Gasol's defense more than deserves mention. He was moving about as well as he has all season tonight. He dug down defensively and protected the paint much like his front court partner Howard, and it made a huge difference in a tight game.
Bryant put in another 40+ minute night while scoring 24 points and dropping nine assists. He ate up Bayless often, eventually forcing the Grizzlies to stick Quincy Pondexter on him throughout much of the night. Offensively, Howard had a quiet night scoring only nine points, but had ten rebounds and was instrumental as he has been at helping his teammates around and at the rim. His final defensive play -- a shuffling challenge of Mike Conley's attempt to win the game -- the final play of his great defensive night.
The stats won't show it all, but Earl Clark was big for the Lakers tonight in the 36 minutes he played. His energy, his timely shots, and one humongous block in the fourth quarter were all big as the Lakers worked towards the win.
The Grizzlies were surviving off of Conley's 21 points, Bayless' 14 off the bench, and Randolph's 15 points. They struggled from beyond the arc, making only three of their 14 three-point attempts. The Lakers outrebounded the Grizzlies 43-36.
The Lakers did it, and in doing it, they picked up a satisfying victory and didn't crumble when the Grizzlies applied pressure. With only six games left in the regular season there isn't much time left for Los Angeles to make "drastic" changes, but they've got six games to settle in to what is hopefully a playoff groove.
The Lakers visit a red and blue Staples Center early Sunday and will ride a three-game winning streak into their oddly colored arena.
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