1. Kobe's Record Night Lacks Winning Ending
MEMPHIS -- It's hard to overshadow Kobe Bryant scoring 44 points, especially when he breaks the Lakers' all-time scoring record in the process and a significant portion of the road crowd is wearing "24" jerseys and cheering him on. But the Memphis Grizzlies just might have done it by beating the Lakers 95-93 on Monday.
In this case, the dateline says it all: We sent somebody to a Lakers-Grizzlies game. Up until a few weeks ago, this matchup was of interest only if you were in charge of planning the Gasol family reunion.
Since then, however, night has become day and up has become down in Memphis. Once upon a time, the Grizzlies were a widely derided laughingstock that gave away (via trade) another all-time leading franchise scorer, Pau Gasol; they also were the team that traded for one of the league's most unwanted players, Zach Randolph, and inexplicably hired a coach they'd already replaced twice.
The laughingstock consensus held steady over the season's first month. Pau Gasol has helped Bryant win two conference championships and one NBA title, while the Grizzlies won 22 and 24 games the past two seasons and began this one 1-8.
But it's amazing how, with such rapid speed, a few events can change an opinion so widely held for so long. Two years to the day after the rest of the NBA was up in arms over the deal that sent Pau to the Lakers for his unheralded brother Marc Gasol, two first-round picks and other assorted flotsam, the Grizzlies beat the defending champs.
Certainly Pau didn't expect Memphis to turn things around so quickly. "I don't think many people did," said the elder Gasol. "I think it's very surprising, the level they reached at this point. They have the personnel, they're just playing together now."
Using the cap space gained in the Gasol brothers trade, Memphis acquired Randolph this past offseason and is benefiting from his All-Star career season. The Grizzlies parlayed another asset from the trade, Javaris Crittenton, into reacquiring a first-round pick from Washington that likely would have been due to the Wizards in 2010. (In light of recent events, in fact, that trade is even more one-sided than the Gasol deal first appeared.)
The result is a playoff-contending Grizzlies squad that improved to 18-6 at home with the win over L.A. And little brother Marc's fingerprints were all over the outcome, culminating in the game's final play when he switched out to take away a potential game-winning jumper for Bryant.
Bryant had 44 points already and the "home" crowd -- Lakers fans outnumbered Grizzlies fans by about 2-to-1 -- was expecting him to go for the jugular and shoot a 3 for what would have been his second game winner in 36 hours. Instead, he kicked the ball to Ron Artest in the corner, who missed as time expired to allow Memphis to leave with the win.
"I just said, 'Just get over and show,'" said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. "Marc went out early, and then they went away from the pick-and-roll, and then he came back and Marc had to switch. You just can't give up an open shot at that time; if he makes the shot over Marc, so be it. Kobe saw that Rudy Gay was leaving the corner and coming to help ... but Rudy made a great close-out on Artest and made him shoot the ball a little higher than he wanted to."
"O.J. [Mayo] got hung up on the screen -- I saw it, I went out to double-team," said Gasol. "I just had to show, try to double-team, try to stay in front of him. He hit the open man, but he could have took me if he wanted to."
Bryant gave a brilliant effort, one that becomes more awesome when one realized the Lakers were on the tail end of a back-to-back and on the last game of an eight-game, two-week Eastern slog, and that he's still playing with a broken bone in the index finger of his right hand.
The finger, however, didn't stop him from going into the way-back machine and exploding down the lane for an emphatic right-handed transition dunk in the third quarter, a bucket that pulled him within one point of Jerry West's Lakers record. On the next trip he dunked in more gentlemanly fashion, taking a dish from Jordan Farmar on the left block and softly placing the ball over the rim for the new mark a 4:14 of the third quarter.
"It's a great honor to say the least," said Bryant, who broke the record of the man who later drafted him as the Lakers' general manager. "[West] taught me so much when I was 17 years old. He showed me a lot about the game, the jump shot and spin moves and all the others."
Unfortunately for the Lakers, it was Gasol the younger who made more big plays down the stretch. In addition to his switch on Bryant at the end, it was his crosscourt kick to Gay for a wide-open 3 that put Memphis up five with 29 seconds left; and it was his block of a Lamar Odom shot that snuffed an earlier chance for L.A. to tie.
"Marc was great," said Hollins, "He didn't score like he normally does, but he still rebounded and did a good job in the post."
Pau didn't have a bad game either, with 10 points and nine rebounds (but no blocks), and certainly he'd been in no hurry to undo the trade. But Monday, he ranked second among Catalan big men in each if those categories -- Marc finished with 11, 13 and three. Several times the two squared off against each other in the post, drawing howls from a local crowd that has gained a strong appreciation for both players, and it seemed their rather detailed knowledge of each other's arsenal made it difficult for either to score one-on-one.
The win takes the Grizzlies a long way from those miserable nights of the past two seasons, much as Marc Gasol has come a long way from when he was a chubby second-round pick the Lakers stashed away in Spain -- and when he was traded, he heard about it first not from either organization but from fellow Spaniard and then-Grizzlies guard Juan Carlos Navarro.
"I knew everything about the Grizzlies," said Gasol, who went to high school in Memphis for a time before returning to Spain to play professionally. "I was living here for a couple years so I knew the Grizzlies very well, and it was a city I was comfortable with."
Much work remains for Memphis, which still has to get through the second half of the season with virtually no depth in an unforgiving Western Conference playoff race. This game might have been their Super Bowl, but they still have 35 more to play.
"I told the guys in the locker room, it's not like college. You can't go play Sacred Heart tomorrow," said Hollins. In fact, Memphis will face the Cavaliers on Tuesday, in Cleveland.
Yes, it's only one game, and a mighty sloppy one at that against a road-weary opponent. But given the date and the opponent, this was another significant milestone for the Grizzlies. Two years in, a trade that was supposed to be the Grizzlies' Waterloo instead has proved to be their salvation.
John Hollinger covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.
2. Sky Hasn't Fallen, Apparently
While the Celtics certainly weren't pleased with their collective effort in dropping their three previous games to a triumvirate of the league's elite in the Magic, Hawks and Lakers, coach Doc Rivers said Boston wasn't quite ready to fold its hand on the 2009-10 season -- even as some prognosticators were writing them off.
So while some some have suggested that Kevin Garnett will never be the same player he was, and that Ray Allen is destined to be traded, the Celtics simply maintained their course and started their recovery process with a monster win in the nation's capital.
Rivers even mocked the panic a bit, noting that both the Orlando and Los Angeles games came down to the final possession, and if the Celtics' final shots had fallen, Boston could just as easily have been 3-1 after this four-game stretch.
"But we're 1-3 and the sky is falling," said Rivers, shaking his head. "It really isn't.
"This was a good team win for us. A lot of guys did a lot of good things. Rasheed [Wallace] and Kevin did a terrific job. The second unit held their own, and I think they got us a lead when they came out [in the fourth quarter]. Tony [Allen]'s defense, Baby [Glen Davis] gave us energy in the second half -- this was a good one for us."
While the Celtics were confident going into Monday's game, a win didn't hurt their psyche.
"We just needed to get a win regardless of the past few games," said point guard Rajon Rondo. "We wanted to come out tonight and end the four games in five nights on a good note."
Added Ray Allen: "When you lose a couple in a row, the next time you win is definitely a relief. It snowballs in both directions. It's important that, when you lose, you stick together and get that ball rolling again."
To read the entire Forsberg blog entry, click here.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Monday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Kobe Bryant, Lakers: One day after beating Boston with a game winner, the tireless Mamba goes for 44 points, on hot 16-of-28 shooting, becoming the all-time leading Lakers scorer. But no KB24 game winner this time. Griz win.
Antawn Jamison, Wizards: This isn't the Antawn the Cavaliers heavily covet as a final piece. Jamison misses 15 of 17 shots en route to eight points (13 below his average) in a 99-88 defeat to the previously reeling Celtics.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"You're playing against the Boston Celtics, so you're not going to get a lot of calls. KG's going to set illegal screens; they're not going to be called. That's just part of the game."
-- Wizards center Brendan Haywood after a loss to the Celtics
5. Jazz Win Sixth In Row
6. NBA Video Channel
7. On The Rodeo Again
Let's start with the glass-half-full approach. Tuesday marks the start of the Spurs' annual rodeo road trip, when the San Antonio rodeo boots them from their home arena for three weeks surrounding the All-Star break. San Antonio will play eight straight road games, and has only 12 of its final 36 contests at home. (Side note: Preparations had already begun Sunday. It was very odd to go to an NBA arena and see the media parking lot converted into a stockyard, complete with giant placards reading "poultry" and "swine." Let's just say that the next time I walk through that lot, I'm taking great care to watch where I step.)
The good news about the rodeo trip, however, is the Spurs' history. Historically, it's been when they've begun their late-season charge after lying in the weeds for more than half the season.
One can make a case that they're ready to make a similar move. Although San Antonio's recent results are cause for concern, it has spent half a season assimilating seven new players and playing through injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. It's only now that the Spurs have really become comfortable with the pieces they have.
"With all the new players," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "it's probably the best thing that can happen to us, just be on our own without any distractions and see if we can shore up our defense and take care of the ball better, because those have been our two bugaboos in the fourth quarters -- defensive lapses and turnovers. That's what we're trying to cure.
"It's been hard along the way, but at this point, we know better who we want on the floor in the fourth quarters [and] what combinations we like and don't like. So I'm hopeful that on this road trip we'll be able to use that knowledge and see where we are."
To read the entire Hollinger column, click here.
8. Waiting For Knicks' Move
Roy (New York): What are the chances that Donnie Walsh makes a trade before the deadline that will either save the Knicks from further embarrassment, or perhaps help them with their playoff push?
Chris Sheridan: It's all about trading Jared Jeffries at this point, Roy, otherwise the Knicks are more or less doomed to losing David Lee next summer (either through a sign-and-trade, or outright with nothing in return on the unrestricted free-agent market) if they land LeBron James. If they move Jared Jeffries for expiring money, they'll have enough room to go after James and then choose between Lee and Chris Bosh, if Bosh is interested.
I'd also postulate that if it took the inclusion of Nate Robinson to get Jeffries off their cap, they'd probably do it if they had to. (The problem, though, is that Nate has a trade veto, and he wouldn't want to go anywhere except Boston, or to a team that'll have enough room under the cap next summer to hook him up for three years. Plus, Nate is a base-year compensation player, which complicates what's doable under the NBA's restrictive trade rules.)
Read the full chat transcript, click here.
9. Day The Universe Changed
Two years ago Monday, the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from Memphis for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, the rights to lil' bro Marc Gasol, and draft picks. Technically speaking, the traditional gift to honor this union would be cotton. Rather than buy Pau a stack of T-shirts, management instead went ahead and got him a three-year contract extension worth about $19 mil per, with which he's free to pick out garments of any material he chooses.
Who says cash is impersonal?
Nobody around town will begrudge Gasol his deal. Certainly not Kobe Bryant or Lakers fans, all of whom saw desires for more championships take a massive step forward the day Mitch Kupchak polished off the paperwork with Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace. It's difficult to overstate Gasol's value to the team, whether on the floor (the Lakers still haven't lost three straight with him in the lineup) or off (Kobe hearts Pau and therefore hearts the organization once more). The guy fits into Phil Jackson's scheme like a hand-in-glove and was the ingredient elevating the Lakers from a growing team with question marks to a perennial championship contender.
To read the blog entry, click here.
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