The Memphis Grizzlies kicked off Game 6 of their Western Conference first round match-up against the Los Angeles Lakers with some urgency, taking an early 9-5 lead two and a half minutes into the contest.
Unfortunately, that turned out to be the high point of the evening for Memphis.
Los Angeles, playing in front of a star studded crowd even by the franchise’s high standards, turned their game with the Grizzlies into a warning to the rest of the league. The Lakers took control from that point on, blitzing Memphis with a 26-7 run over the next nine minutes. This gave them a 15-point lead, 31-16, with less than a minute left in the first quarter.
The Los Angeles lead would not fall below 10 points for the rest of the match as they gradually built their advantage over the Grizzlies. Come the third period, the Lakers put away the game for good.
They banked on the hot shooting of D’Angelo Russell to fuel a 41-point third quarter that saw their lead balloon from 17 points at halftime to a high of 40 during the second half. Russell put the crowd at the Crypto.com Arena on their feet, scoring 14 of his game-high 31 points in their electric third period run.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Los Angeles wound up winning by an impressive 40 points, 125-85, to complete their six-game upset of a depleted Memphis side.
The 27-year-old Russell was in a rhythm all night long and hit 12-of-17 field goal attempts, including five three-pointers, in what was the best playoff performance of his eight-year career so far. The Lakers have thrived since re-acquiring the second overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft last February and what he did in this closeout win over the second seed Grizzlies was the latest stamp of validation for general manager Rob Pelinka’s savvy move.
The shooting that Russell provides allows him to fit perfectly alongside LeBron James as a floor spacer. This was evident when James found Russell for back-to-back three-pointers at the beginning of the third quarter that helped set the tone for their backbreaking run.
In addition, the ability of Russell and his fellow starting guard Austin Reaves to share the playmaking load with James has allowed the 19-time NBA All-Star to pick his spots and remain effective even at the age of 38. James had a brilliant outing in Game 6, bouncing back from a poor showing in their prior contest to finish with 22 points on 13 shots, five rebounds, six assists, and one steal.
Meanwhile, Reaves, who has been a breakout star for the Lakers over the past few months, added 11 points, six rebounds, eight assists, and two blocks.
Los Angeles’ win would not have been possible as well without the efforts of Anthony Davis. As he has done all series long, the eight-time NBA All-Star backstopped the Laker defense with five blocked shots. He also put up 16 points and 14 rebounds despite playing with an injured hip.
Though Los Angeles entered the postseason as the West’s seventh seed through the play-in tournament, they are beginning to look like legitimate contenders for this year’s championship. They await the winner of the first round series between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors which will be going to Game 7 after the latter pulled off a stunning road win earlier in the evening.
In the most improbable turn of events, these Lakers, who lost 10 of their first 12 regular season games, are now clicking on all cylinders. This revamped roster has reinvigorated James and Davis who are both playing with a fire that suggests that they firmly believe that this team can go all the way.
Los Angeles is back in the second round for the first time since their last title run in 2020 and it is captivating to think of what these next few weeks have in store for this exhilarating group.