It was a Grizzly final score and a Grizzly stat line for Zach Randolph—28 points and 11 rebounds, 11-18 shooting and a perfect 6-6 from the line—but the Grizzlies' Friday night win over the Lakers in Los Angeles was not a pretty one.
Randolph got on a roll early and kept it going all night, taking over the game in the fourth quarter with the Lakers in the lead and threatening to extend it. The Grizzlies have struggled mightily to be able to absorb the other team's run and stay within striking distance this year, but tonight in L.A. it didn't seem to be as much of an issue. Randolph was huge tonight, no two ways about it, and his stepping up had to have been a calming influence on the rest of the Grizzlies team.
The issues tonight, though, were on full display. The defense is still terrible. Tony Allen, maybe the best perimeter defender in the league last year, has been great on offense but not as great on defense, as communication issues on switches often leave the opposing shooting guard uncovered. Lakers guards Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, and Steve Blake all got plenty of wide open looks at the basket tonight by camping out on the weak side and waiting for Tony Allen or Mike Conley to help off of them.
Allen sometimes struggles with spot-up shooters because he wanders off of them toward the ball handler, as was especially evident during last year's Western Conference Finals when Allen would help off Danny Green time after time. Those struggles seem to have carried over to this year. But I'm not willing to claim that Allen is solely responsible for these lapses. At several times tonight, either Conley or Allen would switch off of his man, expecting the other to switch at the same time, but it wouldn't happen, leaving Meeks, Young, or Blake wide open. It happened too much.
Compounding the issue on the perimeter are the Grizzlies' continued struggles guarding the paint. Marc Gasol continues to stumble around on defense like The Dude, blissfully unaware of what's happening around him. This is bad for guarding the other team's big men, but it's also bad for perimeter defense. I lost count of how many times a Laker guard—usually Blake—was able to drive all the way to the restricted area and kick it out to a wide-open Meeks or Young.
In the end, Zach Randolph, like a whirlwind of mean-mugs and flying elbows, was too much for the Lakers to handle, and he returned to "Vintage Z-Bo" mode, getting the ball on almost every trip down the floor, taking it straight to Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol, scoring seemingly at will, and that was enough to put the Grizzlies back on top and keep them there while the Lakers attempted to mount a comeback.
The rest of this road trip, the next game of which is Sunday evening in Sacramento, is going to be informative: is this who the Grizzlies are this year, having to depend on a vintage Z-Bo takeover, a commodity that is probably harder to come by than Griz fans would like to admit, to score enough points to make up for the abysmal defensive play and the horrible (7.7%) shooting from beyond the arc to get past a bad team on the road, or was tonight just a "circle the wagons" and get back to business win that will start the Grizzlies on the path back up to a .500 record and help them form an identity?
We'll know soon. Out on the West Coast, the team is away from the Memphis echo chamber that's sprung up in the last couple of weeks—where everybody blames a different Griz player for the problem, while some blame Dave Joerger and some blame Jason Levien and Robert Pera for the problems on the court—and they've got a perfect opportunity to come together as a team and start to build a foundation for the season going forward. Will they take advantage of the opportunity, or are they really the team that showed up tonight? It remains to be seen.