No Zach Randolph and no Rudy Gay? Ultimately, it was a bit too much of a problem for the Grizzlies, who hung very tough without two of their three best players, even forcing 10 bonus minutes of basketball to decide the contest. Lesser names like Tony Allen, Marreese Speights and Quincy Pondexter were clearly up to the task of filling those gaps. Plus, a gritty showing from a squad that made the playoffs without Gay last season, and has thrived all season without Z-Bo or Darrell Arthur shouldn't be shocking. But ultimately, the absence of a true go-to option grew increasingly evident against a Lakers squad at full strength. Luck can only be pushed for so long. And in the meantime, the Lakers eventually capitalized on these fortunate circumstances.
Here are four takeaways from the win.
1) The Lakers barely survived Pau Gasol waiting a long time before showing up at all.
From start to finish, the presences of Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant were felt in BBQ Country. Bynum was about as dominant as can be humanly expected. Only three misses in 18 tries from the field, plus seven makes in eight visits to the charity stripe. Thirty-seven points in all, and in a variety of ways Memphis found impossible to stop. Lobs sequences. A sequence where the ball moved from Kobe at the high post to Pau at mid-post to Drew at the rim proved particularly hard to stop. Spins toward to the bucket after backing down his defender. Drives off a face up. He was as unstoppable as one can be, a nice extension of his go-ahead bucket in the final seconds against Boston. For his part, The Mamba poured in another 34 points, the gaudiest figure of a very well-rounded stat line. Overtime was reached after he drilled a 3-pointer to force a 95-95 tie, then he set up Gasol on a running dunk for another two points. Kudos would be in order for the nearly 52 minutes of run alone.
The two also joined forces on a great hustle play when Bryant sprinted to track down an ORB off a missed corner three, then fed Drew on a cut for running dunk.
Gasol, however, lagged mightily in a game where his talents were needed. After three quarters, he had just five points on 2-for-8 shooting, two rebounds, three assists, and a pair of turnovers to match two blocks. Defensively, he didn't appear particularly engaged, whether matched against his brother Marc or Speights. His overall energy was low, which was disappointing as the Lakers were trying to shake their road woes. Some slack was picked up as bonus basketball began, but it was nearly a matter of too little, too late.
Granted, Gasol wasn't the only starter who didn't take over in Memphis. After a quick start that allowed him to reach the 10,000-point mark for his career (congrats!), Derek Fisher did very little, then found himself benched down the stretch in favor of Steve Blake. Metta World Peace clanged treys as if he were getting paid by the miss (technically speaking, I guess he is) and beyond a few hustle plays, the small forward was pretty much a non-factor. More was needed of them as well.
However, Pau is a different caliber of player, which creates much higher expectations. He didn't meet that bar, which left far too much in the hands of his fellow "Big 3" members.
2) The bench provided a rare comeback bid
Second units, and often good ones, often struggle on the road away from the fans who provide the same burst of energy they look to provide on the court. With that in mind, the expectation is always for the Lakers reserves to brick their minutes on the road, considering they're hardly a rock solid bet at Staples Center. And with the first quarter in the books with Memphis up 29-21, the odds theoretically favored an even deeper hole in the works.
But a funny thing happened on the way to double-digit deficit hell. The second unit, along with Bynum, found a way to steadily get the Lakers back into the game. The majority of scoring duties were predictably handled by the seven-foot All-star, but everyone else found ways to pitch in. Matt Barnes opened the quarter with a dunk created by Blake, one of three dimes dished during the surge. Andrew Goudelock drove baseline to hit his trusty floater. Troy Murphy hit a jumper. And collectively, they held Memphis to a goose egg during a 9-0 run that created a 29-29 tie at the 9:17 mark. By the time the starters checked back in, the home team was up just 37-35, with momentum seemingly slipping away.
Plus/minus, like all stats, never tell the entire story of any game, but it was fitting that the majority/all of the key reserves finished the game on the right side of things.
3) Turnovers nearly did the Lakers in
If 18 turnovers against a team leading the league in steals (10) sounds like a recipe for disaster on the road, that's only because it almost was. Once again, the Lakers' penchant for handing the ball to the opposition almost came back to bite them. The first quarter concluded with seven gaffes, and by halftime, double digits (10) were reached. This inability to hang onto the ball compoiunded an already slow start from the field, putting themselves further behind the 8-ball with more empty possessions. With this tone set, it took forever for the Lakers to eventually take control of the game. After every strong push, miscues -- along with periodic cold spells and a sluggish third quarter start -- reduced them into a Paula Abdul chorus. Two steps forward, two steps back. Like I said earlier, the Lakers' superior star power was the difference down the stretch. But I wouldn't wanna bet the house they could pull off another victory under similar circumstances being so careless.
4) The Lakers deserve credit for hanging in all game.
Given the season-long road struggles, it would have been very easy to picture the Lakers down on themselves after a series of mistakes, then allowing those emotions to become insurmountably overwhelming. And even if a firm resolve was established, the wherewithal to pull out a double OT win in someone else's house hasn't been on steady display. The odds of gutting out a tough road W certainly didn't favor the purple and gold.
However, the Lakers absorbed every gut punch, delivered one of their own, then eventually found themselves landing the majority of punches. That takes guts, no matter who wasn't in uni for the Griz. This is a win the Lakers should feel good about moving forward, and hopefully can be cited a proof of an ability to become credible on the road.
Bold play of the Game: In the second quarter, Kobe, backing down Sam Young, senses the double coming. He proceeds to toss a greasy-slick pass over his shoulder to Bynum, who catches the rock in the air, then sinks the layup over his own shoulder with his back to the basket and Marc Gasol. Great recognition by Kobe, even better athleticism and precision by Bynum.