Ron Artest sprung himself on Marc Gasol in the short corner, taking the ball away from Gasol to gain a steal and then taking an unintentional shot from the Grizzlies center to the face to gain a swollen nose.
Artest covered his face with his hands, sprinted to the far side of the court, sure that he had broken his nose again like he did while playing basketball back in high school and once again earlier in his career in the NBA.
His first feeling was pain. Blood flowed from his nostrils and pooled in his mouth. His next feeling was anger. The Lakers forward stared Gasol down as he made his way towards the Lakers bench as the referee called a medical timeout.
"Ron knows how to remove himself from situations like that so he got out of there," Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said. "Instead of standing there and getting in a confrontation, he got out of there and removed himself from anything that could contain any problems. So, that was good, that part."
The bad part was Artest continuing to stew as he was corralled towards the bench. First he pushed Lakers trainer Gary Vitti's hands away when he tried to take a look at him. Next it took his longtime confidant Chuck Person looking him in the eye and Kobe Bryant touching him on his face to grab Artest's attention and try to center him.
"We have a relationship where even though things may get a little crazy for him, I’ll go up to him and check on him and make sure he’s alright and he’ll respond," Bryant said. "So, I just wanted to make sure he’s OK."
Play resumed with the Lakers up by five with 34.6 seconds left in the third quarter and Artest discarded a bloody towel on the sidelines and marched back in to shoot two free throws. He missed them both.
"I want to see him go back out and make those free throws," Jackson said, assessing Artest's anger management. "Get control so he can get his breath going the right way and calm himself down and make those free throws."
Pau Gasol said it was the third time Artest had been hit in the face and he reached his boiling point.
"Obviously he didn’t appreciate that very much," Gasol said. "He’s an emotional player."
Gasol admitted it would have been awkward if he had to break up a fight between his teammate and his younger brother.
Added Bryant: "It was Pau’s brother, so I didn’t want him to beat up Pau’s brother."
But that doesn't mean that Bryant would have had a problem with Artest mixing it up if the incident occurred with someone else.
"It depends on the situation," Bryant said. "I’m not opposed to him smacking somebody, I’m really not, and taking a game [suspension] for it. I have no problem with that. Because at some point, they know he’s not going to respond and they try to take advantage of it sometimes. I’m not opposed to him smacking somebody."
He didn't fight anybody, but he fought on, adding two more steals in the fourth quarter to tie his season high of four and knocking in a 3-pointer to give him 13 points in the win.
"I just kept playing," Artest said. "Once I got my head cleared and they plugged me up a little bit, I just went out there and kept playing basketball."
Artest did not break his nose, it's just swollen according to the team.
"It looks a little bit crooked," Artest said. "I just got to ice it and hopefully it’s not broke … It should be alright. We got these great trainers, they’ll fix me up."
The Lakers held the Grizzlies to just 16 points on 7-of-21 shooting in the fourth quarter as they turned a five-point lead after three into a nine-point win at the final buzzer. It was the second straight game they put the clamps down in the final period, as they held New Orleans to just 13 points on 6-of-22 shooting in the fourth quarter Saturday.
"That's what a good team does," Jackson said. "They learn how to lock a team down and come out in the fourth quarter and play defense."
Bryant, who has preached the mantra "defense and rebounding" ever since the summer of 2008 when he saw the two tenants employed by Boston to beat L.A. and later used by Team USA to win gold at the Olympics, was encouraged by what he saw.
"We have rhythm defensively," Bryant said. "I don’t care what sport you look at. Defense is universal. You defend, you win ... A lot of times it’s ugly basketball, but it’s pretty in June."
The first 10 points scored by the Lakers to start the game came evenly from the starters, all of them scoring two apiece. The balance continued all game. All five starters topped the 10-point plateau, as did Lamar Odom off the bench with 15.
"It's the way it worked out," Jackson said.
It might not have been planned, but it's not coincidental that the balanced attack resulted in a win. Los Angeles had four players score 15 points or more in consecutive victories in late January against quality opponents in Denver and Utah.
Odom saved most of his scoring for late in the game, scoring six of his 15 in the fourth quarter. He made a key 3-pointer with 6:17 remaining to put the Lakers up by five and prompt Memphis to call timeout. Odom ran back to the bench with a big smile on his face and delivered a message that cracked up the coaching staff.
"We’re getting on him all the time about just giving the ball to Kobe and running away," Jackson said. "So I finally called the number for him and he hit it and he was saying, ‘That’s right, you should be calling that number more often.’"
Said Odom: "I always want him to let me play with more free reign. I told him, ‘Good call.’"
With the Lakers now 2-for-2 on their seven-game road trip, it's worth asking how many wins will a successful trip entail.
"I won’t answer that," Jackson said before the game when his team was still only 1-for-1. "I have a number in my head but I won’t share that with you … It starts with seven."
The coach was asked if a perfect trip was too high of a standard and Jackson pointed out that 7-for-7 would be "successful." He has other numbers in mind for lesser adjectives.
"I didn’t say [the number in his head for] ‘acceptable’ or anything else," Jackson said.
The win lifted the Lakers' record to 36-16, something that Jackson would like to improve dramatically.
"We’re 20 [games] over .500," Jackson said. "We want to get to be 30 over .500, we know that’s a goal."
To go 3-for-3, the Lakers will have to beat Boston on Thursday.
The Celtics beat the Lakers 109-96 at Staples Center just more than a week ago and the team still hasn't sifted through the wreckage on tape.
"I promised I’d show them the game film," Jackson said. "They haven’t watched it yet."
Even though the Lakers will be given the day off from practice Tuesday, the Celtics will still be on their agenda.
"We have two days now to watch film and understand what happened in that game and how they beat us," Gasol said.
Jackson usually hands out reading material before his team goes on a long trip like the Lakers are currently on. He's slipping a bit in his "last stand" season, but said he plans on using the off day in Boston to pick out books to hand out midtrip.
"I hope to be able to do that," Jackson said. "I’m sure I’ll be able to. There’s a couple [bookstores] not too far from our [hotel] door."
Jackson just hopes that the team doesn't have too much time to read when they're in Beantown.
"Hopefully it’s not going to snow and we won’t get trapped in there and the ice will be OK," Jackson said. "Then we’ll be fine. We just don’t want to get stranded in the Northeast in a snow storm, that’s basically it."
Utah's 68-year-old head coach Jerry Sloan revealed Monday that he has signed a contract extension through next season.
Jackson, 65, was asked during pregame availability makes him reconsider his plans to retire.
"No, I want to congratulate Jerry and hope he has a great year," Jackson said.
Is there anything that PJax could imagine dragging him back to the sidelines?
"Nothing I’ve thought about," he said.
Quotes of the night: "He’s actually about 6-11 but because God chose not to give him a neck he only measures about 6-9, 6-8 ½.” -- Jackson measuring up Randolph before the game.
"The atmosphere is going to be pretty crazy. The fans are going to be pretty upset from last year’s game and it’s going to be pretty energizing for us. It’s going to be fun … You know you’re alive when you’re playing in front of fans like that." -- Artest looking ahead to the Boston game at the TD Garden.
Stats of the night: A game after shooting 27 free throws to the Hornets' four, the Lakers attempted 35 freebies to the Grizzlies' 17 but made just 21 (60 percent) ... Memphis outscored L.A. 43-15 in fastbreak points in their last two wins against the Lakers and continued the trend with a 15-3 advantage Monday ... Bryant played the 1,073rd regular season game of his career, eclipsing Michael Jordan's career total of 1,072.