Your Los Angeles Lakers stunned the Memphis Grizzlies, in Memphis, during their first playoff meeting this year, running away from the Grizz in a late run to win on the road, 128-112, and steal homecourt advantage in a best-of-seven first round series.
Center Anthony Davis turned in a magnificent two-way clinic, after briefly departing the game with a shoulder stinger near the end of the contest’s first half. LeBron James had a relatively quiet, but efficient, night.
But the top scorers of the evening, in part due to Memphis’ heavy coverage on Davis and James inside, were two key Los Angeles role players: reserve power forward Rui Hachimura and starting shooting guard Austin Reaves, the latter of whom was making his playoff debut as a pro.
That duo combined to score 52 points and help LA put the game away late in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on a hand injury to the Grizzlies’ best player, All-Star point guard Ja Morant.
Trading for Kevin Durant was a no-brainer for the Phoenix Suns. At this point, it’s hard to put into words just how ridiculously good Durant has become. He’s basically perfected basketball. We saw this in Game 1 on Sunday night, when he torched the LA Clippers with a 27-point, 11-assist, nine-rebound, two-block performance, which also included some smothering defense on Kawhi Leonard and some elite rim protection.
But the problem with midseason trades for stars is that they gut your depth. Usually teams need a couple more transaction cycles to plug in the holes along the margins. The Suns have not had that opportunity yet. And in their 115-110 Game 1 loss to the Clippers, we saw how the Durant deal has left them exposed.
Durant played 45 minutes. Booker played 43. Paul played 39. Ayton played 33. The team’s fifth starter, Torrey Craig (27 minutes), and Landry Shamet (24) were the only other Suns to receive more than eight minutes of playing time. Josh Okogie, Bismack Biyombo, Ish Wainright, Jock Londale and Terrence Ross also all played between four and seven minutes. In other words: Even Williams was unsure of who he could rely on in this sort of tight, playoff environment.
And, honestly, who can blame him? The Clippers ran laps around the Suns anytime one of those reserves stepped foot on the floor. Just look at the plus/minus numbers: -12 for Wainright, -10 for Okogie, -11 for Biyombo, -8 for Landale, -14 for Shamet, -1 for Ross.
What happened to Davis?
After Davis lost feeling in his arm, the Lakers’ medical staff examined him during the ensuing timeout and determined he needed to go back to the locker room for testing. Fewer than 24 minutes into the Lakers’ postseason, it appeared to be over — with Davis’ season ending due to injury yet again (Davis also got injured during the 2021 playoffs).
Davis was brilliant. He scored 22 points. He pulled down 12 rebounds. He swatted away seven shots. “He’s our middle linebacker,” said Lakers coach Darvin Ham. When Morant drove the paint, Davis was there waiting for him. He finished plus-27, seven points better than anyone else. Late in the second quarter, Davis collided with Jaren Jackson Jr. His arm went limp. The ABC halftime show wondered if the Davis injury curse had struck again. Instead, Davis returned and was the best player on the floor in the second half.
And he had help. Last week, after the Lakers secured a playoff spot with a play-in win over Minnesota, James and Davis addressed the team. James and Davis have extended playoff experience. Entering Game 1, James (266 games) had more postseason experience than the Grizzlies’ entire roster (215). The rest of the Lakers did not. In L.A.’s four days off, Ham focused on offensive execution. “That’s a hell of a team over there,” said Ham. “Elite defensive team. No pass shot, one pass shot is not going to work.”
James and Davis’s message was simple: The playoffs are different. The physicality. The toughness. Players, James said, have to be more “dialed in.” Understand assignments. Don’t make mistakes. Don’t have multiple possessions where you don’t run back on defense.
“The way they guard me, they’re going to be in the paint so I got to be ready to shoot those kind of shots,” Hachimura said.
Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane confirmed as much, while directing a challenge toward Hachimura for Game 2.
“That was our game plan going in make him hit shots and he did,” Bane said. “Tip your cap. It’s probably the best game he’s had in his career. It’s a seven-game series. Let’s see if he can do it again Wednesday.”
Reaves, who signed a two-way contract with the Lakers in the summer of 2021 after he went undrafted out of Oklahoma and was later converted to a full-fledged member of the team before the season began, closed things out.
“You dream about being on a stage like this,” Reaves said. “And I got hot late and I had fun.”
It was the first time the Lakers had four players score 20 or more in the playoffs since May 15, 1988, when James Worth, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Byron Scott did it. And D’Angelo Russell (19 points, seven assists) nearly made it five.
“The last week of the season or so, the play-in game, possessions got away from us,” Ham said. “We threw away possessions with no pass or one pass and then shot.”
L.A. locked in after a team address by James and Davis about the increased intensity that the playoffs require, and seemingly has recaptured the momentum that got it to the playoffs in the first place.
“How can we best extract the most production as we can out of this group?” Ham said, explaining the aim of the time off. “And this is how. This is what’s going to work against this team and what we need to explore; this is what we need to leave to the side. I thought it was a combination of all of that — being fresh and taking a deep, hard look at our offense and what’s been good and what’s been bad.”
While the Lakers started the series off with a statement win, stealing home-court advantage from the Grizzlies as they attempt to become the first No. 7 seed to pull off a first-round upset since San Antonio in 2010, James focused on some of the bad from Sunday. He pointed out that L.A.’s 16 turnovers led to 15 points for the Grizzlies and took responsibility for the five he had himself.
“I thought the guys definitely understood that assignment and were really good tonight,” James said. “But I think we can be even better.”
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