In some ways, the Los Angeles Lakers were unlucky to lose 89-86 Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. They fell victim to several tough shots from Zach Randolph and were a missed three-pointer by Steve Blake away from tying the game in the final seconds.
But the Lakers also caught several breaks—not the least of which was the Grizzlies' horrific three-point shooting. Memphis made one of 13 threes on the night. This was only the second time in Grizzlies' team history in which they won a game while shooting more than 10 threes at a clip under eight percent.
So how did the Lakers manage to lose this game? They lost because they played the Grizzlies' game at the Grizzlies' speed.
The 99-Point Barrier
Sometimes it's just this simple: The Lakers do not win when they score fewer than 99 points.
Here's the breakdown:
|Lakers' Record By Points Per Game|
|Team PPG||Team Record|
|Score fewer than 99 points||0-5|
|Score exactly 99 points||1-1|
|Score more than 99 points||3-1|
The Lakers came into Friday leading the NBA in pace factor, averaging exactly 100 possessions per game. But they are not an efficient offense, coming in nearly last (27th) in the league in both offensive rating and total turnovers.
To win, they must force their opponents to play uptempo, inefficient basketball. When the scores are in the triple digits, the Lakers are a dangerous team.
Though the Grizzlies have struggled thus far, they are a veteran team that knows how to slow down the pace, milk the shot clock and avoid the kind of turnovers that lead to easy fast-break points.
The Grizzlies beat the Lakers by doing all the things a slow-paced team needs to do to beat a fast-paced one. They kept the turnover damage to a minimum, as L.A. scored 16 points off Memphis turnovers.
Memphis used Zach Randolph's slow, low-post game to devastating effect: He finished with 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting.
They won the free-throw battle, hitting all 14 attempts, while the Lakers hit 6-of-11. That is how a team wins a game despite shooting less than eight percent from behind the arc.
This is not the first time a Mike D'Antoni-coached team has struggled to play a slower-paced group. D'Antoni spoke at length after the game about what his Lakers need to do to beat teams like Memphis.
Per Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles:
We got to post up better. We went to the post a lot, I don't know what our rate of completion is, but it's got to be better. We have got to be able to defend better. We got to have a transition game where we can get some layups.
Kobe Bryant and Free Throws
In the wake of such a close loss, it would be far too easy to say, "If only Kobe were taking the shots down the stretch, the Lakers would have won."
History has shown that Kobe Bryant does not make every single game-winning shot he takes. But if Kobe had played, perhaps the Lakers wouldn't have needed a last-second shot at all.
As they are comprised, the Lakers are almost exclusively a jump-shooting team. And as a result of their jump-shooting ways, the Lakers do not take free throws. Coming into Friday, L.A. was 28th in the league in free-throw attempts per game.
That certainly looks like a team that could use a player who finished third in the NBA in made free throws last season. Fortunately for the Lakers, that player is already on the roster, and he's hopefully set to return soon.
Until Kobe returns, however, the Lakers will have to find a way to make slower-paced opponents play at their tempo.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.