It's been easy to cast aspersions on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol as of late...but realistically, when hasn't it been? The problem in recent weeks is that it seemed to be more than just the work of message board haters.
For one night at least, the Mamba and the Spaniard put those complaints to rest. The duo combined for 42 points on 18 for 30 shooting to lead the Lakers to a well earned 96-92 victory in Memphis. They were at the forefront of a 49% shooting night for LA, who dominated the first and last quarters of the game to help their team pull out against a resilient, undermanned Grizzlies.
Memphis was missing several of its key parts tonight, with Marc Gasol and Quincy Pondexter out for weeks and Mike Conley a late scratch because of a thigh contusion. As such, the Grizz looked awful similar to how the Lakers have been for the past week or so: a team adjusting on the fly without enough playmakers and no defense to speak of. For most of the game, Memphis looked confused and discombobulated, trying to run their offense through Zach Randolph, who struggled through a 7 for 22 shooting night. Overall, I'm not sure if the Lakers defense was so great tonight as much as the Grizzlies offense was just awful. The team shot just over 40% for the night and 31% from the three-point line, a pitiful number considering how terrible the Lakers have been on D the past few weeks. On the other side of the ball, the Grizz looked like anything but their "Grit and Grind" mantra without Pau's brother Marc, allowing the Lakers to look surprisingly spry considering three games in the previous four nights.
Getting back to Pau and Kobe, they looked far better than one could have reasonably expected them to be, a surprise especially for Bryant considering how poorly he played last night. The Mamba kept down his turnovers to a relatively low 4 for the night and got better shots all within the arc all night long. This might have been his most solid all around game since his return, though as per usual, his defense wasn't exactly sterling on Jerryd Bayless and tony Allen. Gasol too continued his string of strong play, hitting a bevy of shots for 7 points in the fourth quarter and helping to stop a Grizz surge that cut the lead to three with just minutes left in the game.
Last night, I wrote that it's not going to be a straight, steady line up in Kobe's return to the court--it's going to be a zig zagging line with peaks and valleys. For the Lakers tonight, it was a sharp zag upwards on the backs of their two championship-laden veterans.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino