LOS ANGELES — LeBron James vowed to be better for Friday’s Game 6 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
He kept his word, and his teammates kept up the pressure on the Grizzlies from the opening tip, destroying the No. 2-seeded Grizzlies 125-85 to win the series 4-2.
It took James 17 shots to make five in Game 5. On Friday, he made seven of his first eight, punctuating a dominant first-half performance with a two-handed reverse dunk in transition.
“It was definitely a Game 7 mentality for us,” James said after the game. “We understood that we had an opportunity to play in front of our fans, and we wanted to try to end it tonight.”
It felt like they ended it by halftime. L.A. led by 17 at the break and James had 16 points, one more than his Game 5 total. He finished with 22 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds and made history in the process, winning the 40th playoff series of his career and tying for the most all time.
“He’s playing with a sense of urgency,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of the 20-year veteran before the game. “He knows there’s only so many more of these [postseason runs] he’s going to be able to participate in. So he’s definitely been in the moment.”
The second half of Game 6 was merely an extended celebration for the Crypto.com Arena crowd, with the Lakers leading by as many as 40. The cheers were a long time coming, as the franchise completed its first home win to close out a playoff series since 2012, when it beat the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 in the first round.
Getting in on the redemption act with James was Lakers point guardD’Angelo Russell. After going 4-for-11 in Wednesday’s loss in Memphis, he was 5-for-8 in the first quarter alone. Russell finished with a game-high 31 points on 12-for-17 shooting, setting a new career playoff high in scoring. He broke out of a playoff slump in a big way, having never shot 50% or better in a postseason game before.
“To finally make some is definitely a good feeling, but the win was better, to be honest,” Russell said afterward.
And he did it with Kyrie Irving, James’ old Cleveland Cavaliers running mate, sitting courtside directly across from the Lakers’ bench.
Seemingly everything went the Lakers’ way Friday. Their offense shot 53.8% from the field. Their defense held Memphis to 30.2%.
“I told them after the game, we set a standard for ourselves defensively on how we have to play and what we have to do on the defensive side of the ball,” Ham said.
Austin Reaves played the floor game he has become beloved for in L.A., putting up 11 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. Jarred Vanderbilt helped harass Grizzlies star Ja Morant into a 3-for-16 shooting night while going 3-for-8 on 3-points for nine points on the offensive. Rui Hachimura was effective off the bench yet again, scoring six points on 3-for-5 shooting, including two dunks that had the arena rocking.
And Anthony Davis– whose injury woes personified the team’s disappointment the past several seasons — received a gleeful “AD! AD!” chant from the crowd after scrambling off the court to save a loose ball late in the third quarter with the Lakers up by 30.
Davis — who finished with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks — raised both his hands in the air and beckoned the fans for more.
“I can’t control the ball going in the basket every time, but on the defensive end, I can control a lot of things,” Davis said after averaging 4.3 blocked shots in the series, which leads the league this postseason. “And that kind of just fuels the offense. No matter what I’m doing, I want to be able to leave a mark on the game defensively now.”
Both teams pulled their starters with more than nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, with L.A. up 103-71. Blowout victories like Friday rarely happened for the Lakers during the regular season, let alone in the most consequential matchup of the year.
The Lakers became the first No. 7 seed to pull off an opening-round upset since the San Antonio Spurs in 2010 and just the sixth team ever to accomplish the feat. They await the winner of Game 7 between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors on Sunday to find out their second-round opponent.
“We stay in the same time zone,” James said, looking ahead to the conference semifinals. “We stay in the same state. It’s an hour flight to each place, less if it’s Sac, a little bit more if it’s to the bay. So, that definitely helps.”
After starting the season 2-10, the Lakers have won 14 of their last 18 games spanning the closing stretch of the regular season to their play-in win over the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Grizzlies series.
The Lakers became just the second play-in tournament team since it was introduced in 2020 to advance to the second round, joining the Miami Heat, who downed the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the week.
James and Davis improved to 5-0 in a playoff series where they are both healthy.
After the Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks called James “old” after the Lakers’ Game 2 loss in Memphis, L.A. won three of the next four games.
James confronted Brooks on the court before Game 3 in L.A. A source within earshot of the conversation told ESPN James’ message to Brooks was, in essence, “Are you ready for what’s coming for you tonight?”
Brooks wasn’t ready. The Grizzlies weren’t ready.
And the 38-year-old James’ postseason continues
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