December 28, 2017, 2:12 am
The Lakers came out flat on Wednesday against a Grizzlies team that had lost 20-of-23, continuing a trend of lowering their level of play to just below that of their opponent.
Brandon Ingram made the Lakers’ first shot of the night to tie the game at two at the 11:23 mark of the first quarter — the Lakers would not scratch again until Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a pair of free throws over five minutes later. They wouldn’t make another jump shot until Jordan Clarkson hit a 3-pointer with 51 seconds to play in the quarter. Overall, the Lakers shot 5-of-20 (25.0 percent) from the floor and 7-of-11 (63.6 percent) from the free throw line to end the period with a 24-18 deficit.
To compound the issue of their atrocious shooting, the Lakers played lackluster defense against the Grizzlies for the entire first half, allowing one of the worst offensive teams to score 54 first half points. Of particular note was their lack of interior defense as they continuously allowed the Grizzlies to drive the lane for uncontested shots. One play that highlighted this was on an offensive put-back where two Grizzly players were left alone to dunk the ball completely uncontested.
It was after this lackluster effort that coach Luke Walton inserted Larry Nance Jr. into the game and he immediately energized the team’s defensive effort. He was able to lead the Lakers the whole way back from a 10-point deficit, eventually helping them take a 45-44 lead. The Lakers would promptly take a collective team nap allowing the Grizzlies to go on a 10-0 run largely based on the play of Tyreke Evans who finished the first half with 17 points.
One play of note that capped the Memphis run occurred when Clarkson was clearly contacted on the wrist by Marc Gasol while shooting a jump shot, but the referees declined to call a foul. Clarkson turned and fouled Gasol out of frustration and complained vociferously, compounding the issue by earning a technical foul. Gasol made all three free throws giving the Grizzlies a 54-45 lead before Ingram would make a layup to end the half at 54-47.
The third quarter was the only period that the Lakers won as they edged the Grizzlies 29-22 in that frame. Nance Jr. was the first big man off the bench and his energy and hustle was a major factor in helping Los Angeles in particular while sparking an 11-0 run that culminated in their largest lead on the night 71-67. Nance Jr. finished the night with 12 points, nine rebounds, one assist, one steal and minus-1 rating (tied for team lead) on 5-of-7 shooting and 2-of-2 from the line.
Brandon Ingram made a beautiful pass to Caldwell-Pope for a dunk giving the Lakers a 76-74 lead — the last one they would enjoy on the evening.
Evans responded with a drive to the basket to tie the game at 76 and the teams would go into the final quarter even.
The fourth quarter was not kind to the Lakers as the Grizzlies outscored them 33-23 to win the game by 10 at 109-99. Evans scored 11 of his 32 points in the frame while going 9-of-9 from the free throw line.
Coach Walton made a critical error by bringing in G-league player Alex Caruso for four minutes to start the quarter. Caruso went 0-of-1 from the field and the only stat he was able to accrue was a personal foul after he dropped a pass leading to a turnover. He registered a remarkable minus-9 rating during his brief stint.
Kyle Kuzma had been carrying the Lakers of late but looked fatigued tonight as many of his shots came up short and he was unable to earn a single free throw attempt. Kuzma finished with only nine points, eight rebounds, one assist and two steals and shot 4-of-24 from the field and 1-of-11 from 3-point range. To add injury to insult, Kuzma took a knee to the thigh in the fourth quarter and rode the stationary bike before returning to the court. It did not appear to affect his game as he was ineffective both before and after the injury.
Ingram returned to the Lakers after missing two games due to injury and looked good compiling a team-leading 23 points, four assists, four rebounds, one steal and two blocks while shooting 9-of-20 from the field. He did however shoot only 5-of-11 from the free throw line and had almost half the team’s turnovers with five.
Clarkson was the second leading scorer with 22 points, four rebounds, two assists, one block and a minus-1 rating while shooting 7-of-17 from the floor, 5-of-9 from 3-point range and 3-of-5 from the line.
Josh Hart had another encouraging outing as a Laker with nine points, eight rebounds and two assists while shooting 3-of-5 from the field.
Julius Randle’s enigmatic season continued as he earned only 11 minutes from coach Walton. During his short stint he accrued six points, three assists and a minus-8 rating while shooting only 2-of-5 from the floor and 2-of-6 from the free throw line. He was simply outplayed on the defensive end by the Nance Jr. and coach Walton decided to look elsewhere for production on the evening.
Memphis was led by Evans who had a massive stat line of 32 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and an outrageous plus-22 rating on the evening. He made 8-of-17 from the field, 2-of-6 from 3-point range and 14-of-15 free throws. The Lakers defense Ty-reeked as it pertained to slowing him down as he got to the basket at will all night long.
The Lakers were able to corral Marc Gasol as he finished with only 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists. His presence was felt on the defensive end as he clogged the paint and compiled four blocked shots.
It was the less heralded Grizzly big men who hurt the Lakers on the evening. Jarell Martin compiled 20 points, eight rebounds and two blocks while hitting 8-of-10 shots from the field and 4-of-4 from the line. He was joined by Deyonta Davis who had one of his best games as a professional with 14 points, four rebounds, two blocks and a plus-9 rating while shooting 5-of-6 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line.
Key Stats and Observations
- The Lakers allowed a poor offensive Grizzlies team to shoot 49.3 percent from the floor while struggling miserably themselves to the tune of 37.6 percent.
- Memphis came into the game averaging only 97.1 (29th) points per game but scored 109 points against lax Laker defense.
- Free throw shooting was once again a major issue as Memphis earned 39 attempts, hitting 34 of them for 87.2 percent. Los Angeles struggled to convert at the line again converting only 21-of-33 free throws for 63.6 percent.
- The Lakers were well below their season average of assists 23.2 per game accruing only 14 assists on the night. Memphis was right around their season average of 20.5 assists with 20 for the game.
- Los Angeles was able to keep their turnovers in check by committing only 12 miscues — this may have been a function of little ball movement and creativity on the offensive end rather than impressive decision making. In addition, three of those turnovers were on pivotal fourth quarter possessions that helped seal the defeat for Los Angeles. The Lakers only forced the Grizzlies into 11 turnovers so there was no advantage gained there.
- The Lakers out-rebounded the Grizzlies 49-37. However, 22 of those rebounds came on the offensive glass due to the multitude of opportunities the Lakers afforded themselves with their ice-cold shooting.
The Lakers host the Clippers (14-19) for the next chapter of their cross-stadium rivalry.
The other Los Angeles franchise has struggled this year primarily due to the injury as they have had Patrick Beverley, Blake Griffin, Milos Teodosic and new acquisition Danillo Gallinari all miss significant time.
Despite the rash of injuries, the Clippers have a better record than the Lakers, largely in part due to former Laker Lou Williams who is averaging 20.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.7 3-pointers on the season.
The Clippers recalled Griffin from their G-league affiliate Wednesday and he will practice with the Clippers Thursday — there is a chance that he is able to return to for game Friday.