A two-point lead against the Los Angeles Lakers late in the fourth quarter was on the palm of the Grizzlies’ hands with a chance to tie the best-of-seven series in Game 4, but it slipped away as LeBron James finished with a game-tying layup over the outstretched arms of NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., and the game headed for overtime.
James wasn’t done just yet. He had one more crushing basket in him as he drove to the left against Dillon Brooks, drew a foul and put the Lakers up five with a dagger of a layup with 29.1 seconds left. Memphis was unable to trim the deficit and fell to the Lakers 117-111 on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena, moving within one loss of elimination.
With the victory, the seventh-seeded Lakers (43-39 on the regular season) have improved their series record against the second-seeded Grizzlies to 3-1, meaning they’re just a game away from advancing to the Western Conference’s second round. They will face off against the winner of the ongoing 3-6 matchup between the Sacramento Kings and the Golden State Warriors. That series is currently knotted at 2-2, meaning it will minimally have to extend to two more games. LA can wrap things up tomorrow in Memphis. Were that to happen, the Lakers would get to enjoy at least a bit of a break before a Conference Semis against either club.
In 45:28, the 6’9″ swingman scored 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 shooting from the charity stripe, pulled down a whopping 20 rebounds, passed for seven assists (against just one turnover) and swatted two blocks.
Ineffective Grizzlies small forward Dillon Brooks’ criticisms of James who may no longer quite be in his prime but, to be fair, is playing in his 20th NBA season have proven so meaningless that Brooks has refused to even talk about the series to the press for the past two nights, in a hilarious display of immaturity and cowardice.
“These are the moments that I love,” James said. “I love the postseason. I’ve been a part of a lot of the games and I just love being able to make plays and be out there with my teammates to give them experiences that they maybe never had before.”
He delivered the experience in a variety of ways: from a couple of blocked shots in the first half wagging his finger like Dikembe Mutombo after the second to a couple of charges drawn on Memphis star Ja Morant in the fourth.
“He understands for us to get all of our other guys to do and make the right plays and sacrifice themselves, he has to be at the top of that list,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Those charges represent him doing whatever it takes to put us in a position to succeed.”
And the game wouldn’t have made it to overtime if not for his game-tying layup with 0.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, finishing his drive by lofting the ball high off the glass to elude the Grizzlies man in the middle, Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr.
“I work on different layup packages,” James explained. “Tier 1 is a layup really right under the rim where you lay it off the glass. Tier 2 is where you lay it off the middle of the glass, the middle of the square. And Tier 3 is over the square.”
James’ one in Game 4 was so high it might have been Tier 4.
“Things aren’t always going to be perfect,” Davis said after going 3-for-5 from the field in the fourth quarter and OT after starting the game 1-for-8. “Sometimes you got to win ugly. Sometimes you don’t play well, but still try to leave your imprint on the game. And that’s what I tried to do tonight on the defensive end.”
Early lack of offensive rhythm
The Lakers looked like a team that had figured out the tendencies of the Memphis players through most of the first two quarters. The Lakers sagged off of Dillon Brooks and dared him to take 3-pointers. Through a lack of execution and personnel, Memphis struggled to get spacing before a sudden 14-1 run to close the half. Memphis shot 34.5% in the first half and went 5-for-23 on 3-pointers. Memphis shot 54% in the third quarter to turn the tide. The quarter was ended by a Morant left-handed dunk at the buzzer that gave Memphis a two-point lead.
Desmond Bane gets hot
Memphis needed one of its top scorers to rise up, and that guy ended up being Bane. He got hot near the end of the first half and carried his shooting performance into the third quarter. Bane started the game shooting one of seven before focusing on his midrange jumper and getting to the rim. He followed that slow start by making seven of his next 10 shots. Bane’s previous series-high in scoring was 22 points in Game 1, and he only shot 6-for-18 in that game. Bane made multiple big shots in the fourth quarter when the Lakers were gaining momentum.
Slowing down Anthony Davis
Davis was the best player in the series through the first three games, but the Grizzlies made it a focal point to limit the Lakers star. Memphis swarmed Davis when he got paint touches, and the defense did a good job of not letting him get deep in the paint, which led to contested midrange jumpers. Davis was held without a made field goal in the first half and scored two points. The Lakers star also struggled in the second half. He had seven points at the end of regulation and finished with 12 points.
Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are shooting a collective 41.9% on 21.5 3-point attempts per game. Murray’s 40 points in Game 2 were a sign that the pre-injury version of his game — specifically the one that exploded in the bubble playoffs — is laying in wait. If the Nuggets can rediscover that Murray with some consistency, they can run with anyone on the offensive end.
Defensively, Denver has met the pressure of the playoffs, at least against Minnesota. A collective effort from the starters, combined with an infusion of Bruce Brown in any number of lineup combinations, has elevated the defense from a middling regular season outfit to the West’s second-best unit through four playoff games. Until the Nuggets demonstrate the same level of competency against a more formidable opponent, the defense will remain a question, but Denver’s rotation is the West’s most well-built from top to bottom.
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