The Lakers had “Get back on track” written on the board in their dressing room. Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies wouldn’t let that happen against them.
Conley scored 10 of his season-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, and the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Los Angeles Lakers 98-96 on Tuesday night, sending the defending champs to their third straight loss.
It’s just the second three-game skid for the Lakers since they traded with Memphis for Pau Gasol in February 2008 to team him up with Kobe Bryant and first since March.
The Grizzlies now have won four straight at home and four of five overall.
“Our team came out and competed against one of the best teams in the NBA, and they competed well enough to get a win,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said.
The Lakers had a chance to at least tie the game or win at the end. Conley lost the ball when he drove the lane and crashed into Pau Gasol. Bryant passed to Ron Artest for a 3-pointer for the win, but Rudy Gay blocked the shot as the Grizzlies held on for their second win in four games against the defending champions. Artest credited Gay with great defense.
“It was well-executed. I learned something from that today …,” Artest said of Gay’s block. “That was great execution. His close out was perfect … He closed out, chopped his feet a little bit. Stayed low, didn’t go totally for the head fake and recovered.”
Gay, who finished with 14 points, credited his teammates with helping O.J. Mayo defend Bryant who wanted an open look at the end. Gay realizes he’s known as a scorer but wants to play better defense.
“The type of defensive-minded team we are here in Memphis, the sky is the limit. We all have aspirations of the playoffs. You have to play defensively every night,” Gay said.
Zach Randolph had 13 and eight rebounds for Memphis. Xavier Henry had 12, Marc Gasol had 10 and nine rebounds. Mayo had 11 points off the bench.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson didn’t call a timeout, preferring to let Bryant run down and take an open shot.
“I went middle and I had the shot that I wanted, but I lost the handle on the ball while I was going up, so I kicked it to Ron,” Bryant said. “Ron took a dribble and shot.”
Bryant finished with a game-high 29 points but was 9-of-25 from the floor, including 1-of-6 outside the arc. Pau Gasol had 15 points and 14 rebounds playing mostly against his little brother.
“I think he felt like he had to carry a little bit of the load,” Jackson said of Bryant’s recent shooting woes. “Kobe’s going to come out there and attack if no one else is aggressive enough. He’s going to test the defense, and the other guys are going to have to step in.”
It looked like it would be a tight game early as the teams swapped the lead 17 times with 13 ties until Marc Gasol’s three-point play put Memphis ahead to stay with 3:18 left in the first half. The Grizzlies led 51-49 at halftime and opened the third quarter with a 13-4 run started by consecutive buckets by Conley.
Jackson said his team’s problem in this skid is starting sluggishly in the second half.
“Third quarters have been a real problem for us, coming out and having the right energies. Carrying the attack,” Jackson said. “We start games relatively well. Our bench has had a little of a struggle right now, and that’s the other denominator that’s probably common.”
The Lakers pulled within 70-65 at the end of the third quarter. Greivis Vasquez opened the fourth with a 3, Mayo hit a 3 and Sam Young hit two free throws for a quick spurt that gave Memphis the biggest lead of the game at 78-65.
The Grizzlies still lead 89-80 and had fans chanting “Defense, defense” when it appeared Bryant had completely missed the bucket with an air ball. The teams were starting to head back down court when an official ruled the Grizzlies had touched the shot, giving it back to Los Angeles.
The Lakers struggled to get a shot off until Shannon Brown’s deep 3 beat the shot clock with 4:07 left. That seemed to energize the Lakers who started trimming that lead down. Brown scored again, Bryant hit four straight free throws, then Lamar Odom hit a pair.
But Conley kept answering first with a jumper, then his 3 with 1:41 left. Artest hit a 3 with 59.3 seconds left, and Bryant drove for a layup to pull the Lakers the closest since halftime.
“Defensively, we had trouble keeping in front of him,” Jackson said of Conley. “A lot of that’s help from the big guys, and a lot of it’s his talent.”
Los Angeles had its biggest lead of the game at 43-37 on a 3-pointer by Artest with 6:29 left in the second quarter.
The Lakers stayed in the game in the first half thanks to the free throw line, hitting 12-of-14. Bryant made more free throws by himself (6-of-8) than the Grizzlies (5-of-8).
One of Memphis’ highlights in the half came when Hasheem Thabeet, the No. 2 pick overall last year, took a charge from Bryant in the final minute of the first half.
Credit: ESPN AP