A lot has been said and a lot has been written about these Los Angeles Lakers.
After Game 4, though, it seems that more will be said and written, much to the joy of Laker fans and the annoyance of their haters.
Grit and grind was the mantra for the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2010s and Los Angeles took a page out of their book in their 117-111 overtime win. Trailing for much of the second half (after losing their own double-digit lead), the Lakers buckled down on defense and chipped at the Grizzlies’ lead. While it was a team effort, it was LeBron James that took the spotlight in this win over Memphis.
James technically had the 40 (22 points and a postseason career-high 20 rebounds) Dillon Brooks needed to respect him (but then again, what’s Brooks’ respect when you’re LeBron James?), but beyond the numbers, you have to give props to the NBA’s all-time scoring leader for taking charge when it mattered.
Even at 38, James was attacking the teeth of the Grizzlies defense while also guarding the likes of Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Desmond Bane. The former was of more importance, as his game-tying layup with less than a second in regulation forced overtime. In the extra period, the four-time NBA champion converted on two more, with the final layup sending
Staples Center Crypto.com Arena into bedlam.
The rest of the team obviously fed off his energy as Austin Reaves led Los Angeles with 23 points. D’Angelo Russell may have gotten some flak for his offense, but one can’t discount the three 3-pointers that sparked the Lakers’ furious rally in the fourth quarter.
Davis may still be searching for offense, but his defense has been stellar to say the least. He has been averaging 4.8 blocks and has combined with Jarred Vanderbilt in producing a defensive masterclass for much of the series. In fact, the seven blocks Davis and Vanderbilt finished with in Game 4 matched Memphis’ output.
All things considered, that’s how basketball games are won. There are days when virtuoso performances can carry a team to victory, but more often than not, teamwork makes the dream work. James may have had quite the performance, but his teammates’ contributions have proven to be invaluable in this series.
What then if it’s an off night offensively or things are simply not working in their favor? Then it boils down to contributing in other things. With Davis misfiring and Rui Hachimura limited to single digits for the first time in this series, it was Vanderbilt who stepped up offensively. The putbacks and baskets off transition were welcome, but the pleasant surprise were the two 3-pointers that came with the space the Grizzlies were giving him.
Apart from his three 3-pointers, Russell struggled offensively, and yet that never wavered his confidence nor his habit of trying to get the ball to James and Davis. That was missing prior to the deadline as James had to get the ball to Davis, while James would bring the ball down and head to the post. Now James and Davis have more energy to punish their opponents.
It’s these little things that lead to major results and between now and Game 5, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham will continue to preach playing smart. Los Angeles’ defense limited Memphis to below-40 percent shooting from the field, which in turn allowed them to overcome their offensive struggles. The second round is within reach, but the Grizzlies obviously won’t hand them a win on a silver platter so another slugfest is likely on the table.
The marathon continues for the Los Angeles Lakers, who are on the brink of advancing to the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs after starting in the Play-In Tournament. A confluence of factors led them to where they are right now and it will take a concerted effort on their part to get over the hump, because as the late Laker great Kobe Bryant said, “Job’s not finished.”