Once upon a time in Hollywood, the Los Angeles Lakers needed elite showings from Anthony Davis and LeBron James to beat quality ballclubs. On Sunday at the FedExForum, the Lakers’ 128-112 Game 1 win over the Memphis Grizzlies encapsulated their evolution since the trade deadline.
Davis was, in fact, ferocious on both ends. He overcame a midgame shoulder injury to set a playoff career-high with 7 blocks, recorded 3 steals, and grabbed 12 rebounds. He shot 10-of-17 for 22 points and posted a team-high +27.
LeBron had a more subdued, if subpar, outing. As he’s done since returning from injury, LeBron carefully picked his spots, was roasted on defense (especially by Jaren Jackson Jr. in the post), and committed 5 turnovers. He made one basket in the fourth quarter — a critical three-pointer to put the Lakers up seven with 5:26 to go. Still, LeBron finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks.
Down the stretch, LeBron and AD ceded the ball — and the spotlight — to Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura. Nobody could have seen that coming a few months ago.
It made sense. Hachimura, a recent DNP-CD, was the breakout star of the game. The late- January acquisition had his finest game since joining the Lakers: 29 points, 11-of-14 from the field, 5-of-6 from deep. He threw down a massive dunk on JJJ early in the fourth and was deep in his bag all afternoon. It was the most points off the bench for the Lakers in a playoff game since 1988.
“Since I got here, this team really believes in me,” said Hachimura. “(It makes me) very confident and comfortable.”
29 PTS, 6 REB, 5 3PM, 11/14 FG
Lakers take Game 1 in Memphis. pic.twitter.com/kocNoHj1X1
— NBA (@NBA) April 16, 2023
“It’s probably t he best game of his career,” acknowledged Desmond Bane. “It’s a seven-game series. Let’s see if he can do it again Wednesday.”
Reaves was fiery from the jump. Playing in front of about 100 family members and friends, the 24-year-old sparked his squad at the beginning and end of the game. He scored 7 points early in the first quarter and was flexing on the Grizzlies. In crunch-time, he set up Rui for a dagger 3 via a sweet behind-the-back dish before scoring nine straight points. He made sure everybody in the building knew he his, indeed, Him.
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) April 16, 2023
Reaves ended up with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The Lakers are 9-2 since inserting him in the starting lineup. D’Angelo Russell said Reaves was “kill mode” all game.
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) April 16, 2023
“It’s a lot of emotions,” Reaves said about his late-game surge and talk. “You dream about being on a stage like this with the best players in the world. … It’s the playoffs. I got hot late, and had fun.”
“I knew from the first practice that he wasn’t going to be a two-way for long,” reflected LeBron. “I’ve been around the game long enough to know great basketball IQ players … and the (guys) that fit with me.
“I’m extremely happy for him. And I want him to do it again.”
Russell, meanwhile, bounced back from a rough Play-In game and ice-cold first quarter to finish with 19 points and 7 assists.
“Team effort,” noted DLo. “Everybody was excited for everybody in this one. Everybody played their part … Everybody’s capable on our team, and that’s what makes us scary.”
Any team with championship aspirations needs at least two role players to have outsized performances to win road playoff games (Ja Morant’s wrist injury certainly helped the Lakers pull away. X-rays on Morant were negative but he sounded pessimistic about Game 2). On Sunday, Rui, Reaves, and Russell delivered.
“Bron, AD carried the load for a long time,” added Russell. “For us to just help them support that and step up big — sky is the limit for this group.”
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