Kobe Bryant passing Jerry West to become the franchise's all-time leading scorer, but not for the reason one might assume.Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Kobe passing Jerry West with this dunk was fantastic, but also about as good as it got for the Lakers.
Undoubtedly, it was a thrill seeing Kobe make history, taking his indelible place as the creme de la creme of purple and gold scorers. All praise is wholly deserved. But at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, whatever chapter this 95-93 loss represents in the book of Kobe's life, were it not for an especially memorable footnote, there would be absolutely no other reason to even skim these particular pages.
This was one stinker of a loss to watch, regardless of where your rooting interest lie.
Kobe's 44 points- Dude is nothing if not capable of creating irony- took a while to set into motion, as Bryant missed his opening trio of shots and first two free throws. But upon drilling a turnaround jumper against O.J. Mayo halfway through the opening frame, he quickly heated up, canning 15 of his next 25 attempts. And there was variety brought to the table as the guard grew closer to changing.
A buzzer-beating corner triple as the first quarter elapsed. A mid-range J canned over DeMarre Carroll's outstretched arms. Fouls drawn and baiting Mayo and Zach Randolph into technical fouls, the latter out of frustration when another guy altogether (Hamed Haddadi) was whistled for contact on Kobe behind the arc. A soaring, one-handed tomahawk dunk as the crowd buzzed and Marc Gasol could do nothing but helplessly watch.
And of course, there was the sequence allowing him to grab the torch.
After Pau Gasol hit the deck to secure a rebound, he pushed the ball to Ron Artest, who immediately hit a streaking Jordan Farmar in space. The UCLA product, knowing Mamba was breathing heavily down The Logo's neck, underhanded the ball to a trailing Bryant and cleared a path. The ensuing dunk- thrown down gingerly, one hand briefly raised in acknowledgment as he floated down to the hardwood- permeated "and there you have it" body language.
Low key for such a high mark on a career.
Perhaps he was protecting his bad finger (although the thunder jam was just one possession removed). Or maybe as a savvy veteran, Kobe recognized how poorly the Lakers were playing and their 83-80 lead was anything but secure, prompting the overly subdued reaction.
Either way, smart guy, that 24.
Today's loss felt like a continuation of Sunday's muddy win in Boston, save the final outcome and an absolutely invisible Andrew Bynum. The opening quarter began in somewhat promising fashion with the Lakers shooting 50 percent against the Grizzlies' 42, and forging a 24-all tie to conclude the frame despite five turnovers and Pau Gasol sitting after two fouls in just 2:09 of run. From there, however, it grew slowly more unpleasant.
The offense was unbalanced, whether you're talking about Kobe hoisting 28 shots and the remaining starters 25 combined or Kobe and Artest accounting for 62 points and everyone else making small dents at best.
Struggles from the field were magnified by issues at the line, where the Lakers connected on just 63% of their tries. Safe to say, ten misses came back to bite them in the hindquarters.
Surrendering a dozen offensive rebounds to Memphis, which goes a long to way to neutralizing the positives coming from an opponent shooting just 42 percent, hurt as well. For that matter, so did the 42 points allowed in their paint.
Everything grew truly ugly during the third quarter, described by Phil Jackson on the televised post-game interview as "one of the most distracting" he'd ever coached. Almost five minutes passed before Kobe banked a baseline layup home and scored the first points of the new half. Before the bucket, lowlights included Artest barreling through the lane for a traveling violation and back-to-back bunnies missed by Bynum and Gasol off textbook pick-and-roll feeds from Kobe. Derek Fisher also went down briefly after a knee from Zach Randolph, which required PJ to burn an early timeout. It was an outing equal parts inept and chaotic.
The action got so ragged, as Phil noted, it barely dawned on the Lakers their 21 points third-quarter points actually bested an equally inefficient 18 from Memphis.
From there, a brief roll was enjoyed and the visitors were up by four with under five minutes to go. Unfortunately, as PJ lamented, the offense shifted into "one pass and shoot" mode, creating more misses than quality looks and eventually allowing Memphis to leave the coach's own milestone celebration for another day.
Not that PJ seemed all that geeked to laud personal quests.
He told the team at halftime "(Bryant) was forcing the action and let's get him over the hump so we can start playing team ball out there." (For the record, I didn't accompany the Lakers on the roadie, so I can't say for certain whether Kobe's record was a distraction. But the Lakers certainly played at times like a team overly aware.)
That goal, along with the one revolving around a win, ultimately fell by the wayside.