Monday afternoon in El Segundo, Phil Jackson said the following about his team's too-late fourth-quarter push against the Pacers on Sunday night at Staples Center: "Sometimes you're not going to get the breaks at the end of the game because you haven't deserved them."
Fair to say Tuesday's loss in Memphis, L.A.'s third straight, was one they didn't deserve to win, despite having a shot at a game-winner on the game's final possession. Not that they actually got one off. Ron Artest's double-clutch hoist from beyond the arc was blocked by Rudy Gay, and that was that. My guess is the Basketball Gods, so offended by L.A.'s performance throughout the night, made sure the leather never reached the rim.
Here's how it broke down ...
Three Up: No trouble keeping this section short.
1. Rebounding. It has been a major issue for the team throughout the season, but don't blame tonight's loss on poor glass work. The Lakers outrebounded Memphis 42-29 and allowed only five offensive boards all night.
2. Free throws. The Lakers made 21 of their 25 attempts. That's an 84 percent clip, and some very solid work. They also got there 25 times compared to only 16 for the Grizzlies. (Of course, part of the problem was that too often the Lakers never actually got close enough to the Grizzlies to foul, as they made their way relatively unimpeded to the bucket. So maybe the free throw advantage isn't something to crow about? Either way, 84 percent is very good.)
3. Shannon Brown. He provided a spark late, burying a semi-miracle 3 from just outside the lobby of the Peabody Hotel to help keep the Lakers close down the stretch, then picked up more points aggressively attacking the rack off a Memphis turnover. His jumper still didn't fall (mega-3 notwithstanding), but more than once he compensated by putting the ball on the floor. Was he great? No. Not at all. But I feel as if I earn my money when I can fill up all three parts of the "Three Up" column, even on a night like this.
Three Down: Wow, only three? This is going to feel limiting. I'm going broad, here, people ...
1. Offense. I'm not entirely sure the Lakers ran one. Once again, Kobe Bryant came out firing early, taking eight of L.A.'s 21 first-quarter field goal attempts, and generally dominating the ball on isolations and early high screens. As it was Sunday against the Pacers, the early Kobe-centrism created a bad vibe for the offense all night. Ball and player movement slowed to a near-crawl as Bryant continued dominating the flow of the offense, whether on the high screen, or (worse) working in isolation on the perimeter. The trend continued into the second half, and seemed to change only in the fourth quarter.
And it leads to the ancient Lakers question: Was Kobe dominating the ball because nobody was helping and moving, or was nobody helping and moving because Kobe was dominating the ball? Tonight, I think it was much more the former than the latter. Interestingly, after the game Jackson said his players need to take more trips where they go away from Kobe early, avoiding a sort of hyper-deference, working either to get him the ball later or finding their own shot when available. It keeps them involved, and sometimes they have to understand when they get the ball in to Kobe early, it may not be coming out.
Ouch. Not a very flattering commentary on Kobe's play Tuesday, or the fortitude of his teammates.
Don't think the problems were just Kobe's (though when he's going to handle the ball as much as he did tonight, the onus certainly falls on him). Pau Gasol's slump continued, as he was 5-of-13 from the field and again struggled to make an impact and force the offense into other directions. He picked up 14 rebounds and blocked four shots (including a critical swat on Memphis' last possession giving the Lakers a chance to tie or take the lead at the buzzer), but again wasn't the high-quality force the team needs him to be. That said, the Lakers simply didn't use him enough as a facilitator of the offense, where he can be so effective with other players cutting off him. If memory serves, he didn't pick up his first assist until the third quarter. That shouldn't happen.
Another byproduct of such a Kobe-centric attack -- the Lakers basically self-neuter one of their best mechanisms to run the offense.
Generally speaking, when Bryant and Gasol are a combined 14-for-38, bad things will happen.
2. Defense. Mike Conley absolutely throttled them, ripping off 28 points on only 13 shots, and generally finding the path to the rim paved in gold. Gay finished 7-of-15, but it seemed as if he was more effective. Xavier Henry made six of his 11 shots, and O.J. Mayo had some big buckets as well. As a group, the Lakers simply didn't cover well for each other. They couldn't stop the high pick-and-roll with Conley, no matter who was on him. Resistance at the rim was too often non-existent.
Everyone played a role. Gasol struggled to shut down the paint. Most of Henry's buckets came because Kobe completely ignored him. Communication on the high screens was obviously lacking. On Sunday, when Kobe popped off about too many questions about offense (it was my question setting him off!), I thought there was some posturing. The D wasn't great Sunday, but it wasn't awful, either. Tonight, if he harps on defense, he'll have a point. Save the third quarter, it wasn't at all good enough. In the fourth, as the Lakers were trying to make a push, the best they could do was trade baskets. And not tough, contested baskets, but a lot of easy, clean looks.
But it was also a perfect example of how bad offense leads to bad defense. Too often, the iso-heavy Lakers were left imbalanced at the end of a possession, and had to scramble as the Grizzlies came down the floor, and much of the responsibility here is Kobe's. When the ball sticks, shot selection suffers, and defense along with it. Poorly conceived long jumpers lead to run outs and defensive breakdowns. Again, it's not all him -- the entire team wasn't able to make the plays to protect their basket, particularly on Conley -- but it's not as simple as Kobe saying "It's all about the defense," as he did Sunday night. The two are related. Offense can be created out of defense, and bad offense can scuttle the potential for good D.
Bad offense? Bad defense? Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln ...
3. Matt Barnes. This was the first game I can remember when I felt he just played genuinely poorly. It happens. But it seemed to stick out. Six points, four turnovers. Again, I've got three things to fill out here, and as you noticed, went pretty big-picture for the first two. Didn't leave much.
Much more to come.