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Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Lakers 99, Grizzlies 98: The Moment

By Andy Kamenetzky

The seemingly obvious call would be Kobe Bryant's game-winning three-pointer, canned with four seconds left and set up by a beautifully designed inbound play allowing the superstar to use a Pau Gasol screen to run off ball and free himself for glory in his return to action.

I could instead go slightly less obvious and nominate Kobe's game-tying trey, which squared the game at 96 apiece with just a minute to go. On that possession, Mamba utilized another Gasol screen, then casually pulled up a foot or so behind the arc. Nothing but net.

But honestly, I think the game's real "moment" came during the second quarter when, on consecutive possessions, Shannon Brown made two bad decisions with wildly different results. These "Jekyll and Hyde" 21 seconds were the embodiment of both why the Lakers emerged victorious and why the game came down to the wire in the first place.
On the first play, Brown snatched an O.J. Mayo pass deflected by Lamar Odom, then while in mid-air with his back to Memphis' bucket, tossed the rock wildly down court, the intended recipient still a mystery after multiple DVR rewinds. Thankfully, LO's long strides enabled him to track down the Spalding, then shuttle it to Jordan Farmar, who threw an alley oop pass to Andrew Bynum for a dunk. Fun "playground" stuff, as KCAL's Joel Meyers described it, but certainly more lucky than good. I'll go out on a limb and predict this ain't a set play Phil Jackson runs during practice.

On the Grizzlies' ensuing possession, Brown fouled Mayo on a three-point miss. That meant a trio of trips to the line, all good. That brought the Griz within nine points and marked the Lakers' permanent descent into sloppy play.

After a first frame holding the Grizzlies to a sweet 16, L.A. allowed their hosts to double it over the second quarter, then score 33 during the third. That strong defense consistently witnessed during Bryant's ankle-sprained absence? On its heels. The smart play without Kobe? Non-existent. The Lakers turned the ball over nine times in the third quarter alone and 17 times in all. Well above the team's average, and even more eye-popping, this mess' foundation was a first quarter with just two gaffes.

Everything went haywire, and it wasn't a matter of Memphis forcing Laker mistakes. They just played badly.

"You can't defend turnovers," said PJ after the game. "They're eventually going to catch up with you. We created our own mismatch in that (third) quarter."

That lack of concentration also surfaced at the stripe. After missing just twice in 19 tries over 36 minutes, veterans became unglued. Pau, 82 percent on the season, missed three attempts during the final frame and Derek Fisher, an 85 percent guy, missed a pair. Inexcusable, and for El Spaniard, additional proof playing in Memphis messes with him. No shot was too big a "bunny" for Gasol this evening.

Thankfully, like the playground play cited earlier, the Lakers often got lucky. Referee confusion worked in their favor after Pau blocked Sam Young's drive and all three officials couldn't decide who last touched the ball before it went out of bounds. (Answer: Pau). This led to a center-court jump ball controlled by the Lakers and converted into a Kobe turnaround J. After faking a shot, Odom threw a dangerous pass inside to Pau, who was barely looking in his direction and barely hung onto the ball before getting fouled by Rudy Gay.

By the teeth's skin, as the saying goes.

Most importantly, there were four leaf clovers offered by Memphis. The Griz missed freebies of their own, the costliest Mayo's missed pair with 18.8 seconds and a chance to, if not put the game on ice, submerge it in some very frigid water. They turned the ball over three times in the final 3:35. They got called for two illegal picks down the stretch, the second lathering Coach Lionel Hollins into a T, successfully converted by Kobe.

As much as the Lakers didn't truly deserve to win this game, in all honesty, neither did the Griz. And since league rules dictate there must always be a victor, the Lakers took the honors more or less by default.

Like always, it helps to have that Kobe character around for these close games. But when it shouldn't have been close to begin with, the heroics are appreciated, but not really enjoyed, if that makes sense. Obviously, a win is a win and you move onto the next one, but it was disappointing to see zero continuity of the positives demonstrated while Kobe recovered.

Particularly when his return wasn't the issue on any level.