To say he’s been much maligned this season would be a vast understatement. In fact, Pau Gasol has been the most criticized Laker in the relatively young season. Much was expected out of the Spaniard, who most thought would be showcased in a premier role in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. After a woefully disappointing season to date, tonight Pau reminded fans just how good he can be.
Finishing with 21 points and 9 rebounds, including five points in the final 3 minutes of the game, Gasol looked like the man fans predicted he would be this season as he and the Lakers held off the resilient Grizzlies for a 96-92 victory. Even Kobe Bryant turned back the clock, finishing with 21 of his own, none bigger than his 30-foot three with just under three minutes remaining in the game.
The Grizzlies were minus their best player on the night, as Mike Conley was suffering from a thigh contusion and sat out the evening. The offense for Memphis certainly struggled for large parts of the game. It was their defense that was questioned early, as LA poured in 34 points in the first frame en route to a 10-point lead. While they fought back in the 2nd quarter, it was a five-point lead for the purple and gold heading into the break.
Much like Monday night, a slow 3rd quarter nearly doomed the Lakers. Scoring just 15 points in the frame, the Lakers needed a great defensive effort (or poor offensive effort from Memphis) to keep the game tied before the final quarter. The Lakers created some cushion early in the quarter, but the Grizzlies crawled right back into the game. With the Lakers clinging to an 84-81 lead, the Lakers turned to the duo with the longest tenure in the purple and gold.
First, Gasol put in a jumper to push the lead to five. Two possessions later, the Lakers again called on Pau, and he delivered again, keeping the lead at five. Down the stretch, the Lakers called for another Gasol isolation play in the post, this time resulting in a kick-out to Bryant, who buried the deep three-point that gave LA a six-point lead. Pau finished with one more field goal, this time with 1:53 left on the clock, keeping the lead at six and wearing out the Grizzlies.
Nick “Swaggy P” Young was the spark off the bench tonight, scoring 18 points on 6 of 11 shooting. Jodie Meeks was the only other Laker in double figures, scoring 13 points and breaking out of a shooting slump that had lasted the entire road trip. The four-game road trip ended with the Lakers going 2-2, with wins over Memphis and Charlotte and the losses to Oklahoma City and Atlanta. They’ll have a couple nights off before hosting Minnesota on Friday night.