The clock’s winding down. The Lakers trail by a bucket. And you know what happens next.
Kobe Bryant has the ball in his hand. He throws up a miraculous shot. And the Staples Center crowd goes crazy.
The Lakers’ 89-86 loss Friday to the Memphis Grizzlies didn’t feature any of those sequences. Bryant remains sidelined as he rehabs his left Achilles tendon. The Lakers couldn’t put up a game winner. And the Laker fans fully flexed their vocal cords only when Bryant appeared on the court between the first and second quarter presenting the Lakers’ $150,000 check to the Philippine Red Cross.
That left the Lakers witha 4-7 record and without the right ingredients needed to close out against Memphis in a game that featured 14 ties and 22 lead changes. A week after hitting a game-winning three-pointer against the Houston Rockets, Blake’s corner three-pointer with under a minute left nipped the front of the rim.
“It felt good. I thought it was going in,” said Blake, who posted nine points on 4 of 9 shooting and 10 assists. “It was just a little short. Coach drew up a good play and we got the shot we wanted.”
Blake said that play would either involve himself or Jodie Meeks shooting a three-pointer depending on if Memphis’ defense would collapse on a side inbounds pass. If neither of those scenarios happened, the Lakers would dump the ball into Pau Gasol in the post.
When that scenario didn’t work, Nick Young drew a foul on his three-point shot on the following possession. He made both free throws to cut the lead to 89-86 with 6.5 seconds left. Young then intentionally missed the last shot in hopes the Lakers could rebound for a quick trey. The strategy didn’t work.
The Lakers have missed Bryant for quite some time now. But it’s games such as the one the Lakers lost against Memphis where his absence exposes the team’s struggles with making key late-game plays.
“Kobe isn’t here to bail us out with a fadeaway 30-footer,” said Meeks, who had 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting, his highest scoring output in the past season with the Lakers. “But we have good players on this team and we’re confident in one another. If someone has an open shot, we tell them to shoot it.”
But as the Lakers learned against Memphis, their late-game execution went beyond making shots. It also involved the failure to sharpen up on little things.
After grabbing a rebound off a missed shot, Meeks committed a turnover that allowed Memphis to lead by four with 2:24 remaining. Lakers forward Jordan Hill received little help in stopping Zach Randolph from posting 28 points on 11 of 18 shooting, including a flip shot that gave the Grizzlies a three-point lead 16 seconds left. Blake’s missed game-tying shot preceded the Lakers’ failure to crash the glass for any putback or extra possession.
“It’s an issue we don’t have Kobe,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But we have to find ways to score. We have to do it the other way in the sense of not turning it over and making crazy plays. It’s the little mental errors that we’re doing. We don’t have a real margin for error. That’s because Kobe is not there. So be it. He’s not going to be here for the near future. Let’s take care of our stuff.”
Bad news for the Lakers: it’s unclear when Bryant will return. Even worse news for the Lakers: it’s unclear how the Lakers will consistently close out games without him in the lineup.
“Hopefully the experience of being in those situations and failing a couple of times, we can grow from that and see it on tape and really understand the little things make a huge impact in the game,” Blake said. “We have to figure it out.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org