With the Lakers, Clippers, and Kings hosting a whopping 28 home games in 28 days from March 11 through April 7 — all happening at Staples Center, which is only a wind-aided Andy Lee punt from Grantland’s headquarters — we couldn’t resist attending these 28 games and writing about as many of them as possible. Click here for our coverage.
Has anyone made that joke yet? Well, boom, I just planted my flag on it. Sounds like a lost Steely Dan album. The Ramon Sessions Sessions were in session Sunday night at Staples Center, where a constellation of celebrities, kids who won Read-to-Achieve tickets, and everyone in between came to watch the Lakers take on the Grizzlies. And while Rudy Gay spent three quarters playing like the Rudy Gay so many of us want Rudy Gay to be, and O.J. Mayo turned into Clyde Drexler for five minutes in the fourth quarter, essentially winning the game, 102-96, for the visitors, the real story took place off-court. Well, just off the court, where the switch for Kobe Bryant and Lakers coach Mike Brown’s on-again-off-again relationship was flipped decidedly to “off.”
Before we get to the actual drama, let’s burn through some stage directions. On March 15, the Lakers acquired Ramon Sessions from the Cavs for Jason Kapono, Luke Walton, and Luke Walton’s longboard. Since arriving in Los Angeles, Sessions’ Rotten Tomatoes score has been through the roof, garnering rave reviews from teammates and opposition scouts alike. (“He should play the whole game for them. That’s how much of a difference he makes,” one scout told Marc Stein.)
On Sunday night in Los Angeles, Sessions’ impact on the team was palpable. Not to speak ill of the ancient (Derek Fisher) or the buzzcut (Steve Blake), but the Lakers seem, collectively, five or six years younger and a few miles per hour faster with Sessions behind the wheel. Los Angeles’ offense in the first quarter largely ran through skyscrapers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, as the Lakers attacked the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph replacement, Mo Speights. But even with the postgame as the focus, the Lakers got the ball up the court faster and moved it around with more authority because of Sessions.
One of the Sessions’s biggest proponents has been Kobe Bryant, who has talked about how having a floor general he trusts isn’t just good for his attitude, but also for his legs. After a victory over the Dallas Mavericks last Wednesday, Bryant said, “You saw me off the ball a lot, more than probably you’ve ever seen me. As a result, my night was a lot easier.”
Kobe has also spoken of Sessions’s ability to change directions at a high pace. That was especially on display in comparison to Memphis point guard Mike Conley, who has incredible, 0-to-60 pace, but tends to be a very Point A to Point B runner. Sessions, on the other hand, was all over the place, running in Z’s whenever he was on the court.
Hosanas for Sessions’ speed and decision-making aside, taking Kobe off the ball seemed to take Kobe out of the game. Tony Allen had something to do with that, playing defense like getting into heaven depended on how close he stayed on no. 24, but there was an air of detachment from Bryant for much of the first half.
Bryant lit up the Grizzlies in the beginning of the second half, scoring 13 points and helping the Lakers outscore Memphis 24-17 in the third quarter. But then someone ordered O.J. with a side of Mayo.
Mayo, 24 years old with a beard that’s actually 43, scored all seven in a 7-0 run in the fourth. As the game got away from the Lakers, Kobe could do nothing more than watch. Because he was on the bench.
Subbed out with 5:45 left in the fourth quarter, Kobe, who spent most of the second quarter on the bench and most of the game off the ball, seemed primed to have a big fourth. But Brown seemed to wait a little too long to make his sub, finally sending Bryant to the scorer’s table to the chants of “Ko-be!” with only a few minutes remaining.
Then the “thing” happened. Bryant, waiting to sub in, walked back to the bench. It was unclear whether Brown pulled him back to save his legs in the face of defeat or because a timeout was coming. He finally entered the game with a little less than two minutes left on the clock, but by that point it was too late to make a difference. Kobe’s end of game was perfectly summed up, with a minute or so left, when Gasol tried to pass it to Bryant in the high post. Tony Allen jumped the entry pass and got a turnover, leaving Pau to plead with a disinterested Bryant, who ran right by his long-suffering teammate.
After the game, Bryant did some non-denial denial work: “If you guys are looking for a story, I’m not going to give you one,” Bryant said. “I can’t sit here and criticize his decisions. In leading this ball club, that’s something I can’t afford to do. I’ve had his back the whole season; I can’t start doing something crazy now. It wouldn’t make no sense.”
That would make no sense, true. But then, that hasn’t stopped Kobe before.
Some other notes from last night:
- Staples Center celeb sightings were pretty fun, if random, last night, with Ashton Kutcher, John McEnroe, David Beckham, and Gerard Butler (gone blond) lighting up courtside with their wattage. But the best appearance of the evening went to a man who seemed to be cheering for the Grizz: Snoop Dogg compatriot Don Magic Juan. Don’t know if there’s ever been a better union of team and fan. Oh, and he seemed to have a preexisting relationship with Zach Randolph, because of course he did (photo via the always-on-it @jose3030):
- Really fun to watch the Gasol brothers. There wasn’t a lot of head-to-head, with Bynum taking on Marc for much of the game and Speights/Z-Bo worrying about Pau. The two did square off in the arena of looking exasperated after calls. Marc tends to do the “RAAAAAAAAAGE” face, while Pau is a more cultured, ironic “Come on.”
- This would make a great playoff series for the postgame alone. Z-Bo and Marc versus Bynum and Pau? Also, Matt Barnes definitely did some Matt Barnes things Sunday night, overaggressively throwing the ball off of Marc Gasol and then getting mad about Gasol getting mad about it. Barnes also nearly broke his wrists trying to save an errant pass.
- Ramon Sessions looks like Memphis Bleek. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it.