The Lakers turned up the heat on Memphis in the 2nd half, surging to a 128-112 victory to take a 1-0 lead over the Grizzlies in the first round.
Despite the final score, this game was mostly a back-and-forth affair where neither team was able to run away and hide. It's easy to argue, though, that coming in as the lower seed vs. a Grizzlies team that posted the best home record this regular season, the tenor of a highly contested contest favored the Lakers and their superior post season experience.
The Lakers were able to break the game open late, however, relying heavily on the shot making of Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves who both proved more than capable of not just complementing LeBron and Anthony Davis, but stepping into primary offensive roles to carry the Lakers to a critical victory to open the series. That group became the first Lakers' foursome to score 20+ points in a playoff game since Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Byron Scott did it in 1988.
Rui led the Lakers with 29 points on the evening -- tying Mychal Thompson for the most ever for a Lakers' reserve in a playoff game. Rui was magnificent -- particularly in the 2nd half -- at one point knocking down four consecutive three-pointers in the closing minutes of the 3rd quarter to put the Lakers back into the driving seat.
And when he wasn't knocking down the long ball, he was driving for big buckets, filling the lane in transition for easy baskets, and working out of the post to create good shots for himself or teammates. In one of the team's best sequence of the game, Rui got a post-up on the right block and, after getting double teamed, he spun and jump-passed to Austin Reaves for a dagger three that put the Lakers up five with just a shade over four minutes left in the game.
And speaking of Austin, he was wonderful all game, but took full control of this contest down the stretch to steer the Lakers home to the victory. While sharing the court with D'Angelo Russell, AD, and LeBron, it was Austin who had the ball in his hands as the primary decision maker, and did he ever deliver.
From the 4:15 mark of the 4th quarter until only 1:31 remained, Austin commandeered the Lakers offense and created a three-point assist for Rui (his 5th made three), and then scored nine consecutive points over the course of five possessions. Whether it was driving layup, a pull up three, or a midrange jumper in traffic, Austin took over the game with a stretch that pushed the Lakers lead from two to eight, effectively ending the Grizzlies' chances to come back.
While the Lakers don't win this game without Austin and Rui playing to the level they did, it was AD who served as the team's ballast all game on both sides of the ball. Davis was great offensively, scoring 22 points in a wonderful all-court game that saw him wreak havoc with his jumper and in the paint via 10-17 shooting. Davis optimized the touches he got, finding was to keep the Lakers connected offensively with a key make out of the post or a pick-and-roll.
But where he was really dominant was on the defensive side of the floor. Davis was a one-man wrecking crew in the paint, blocking seven shots and snaring three steals -- the first player to reach those statistics since Draymond Green in 2016. Davis was even more dominant than his counting stats indicate, too, as he expertly anchored the defensive paint and ensured no shot came easy when was in the game and his team-best +27 in the box score exemplifies the impact he had.
As for LeBron, after a 1st half that saw him go 4-10 from the floor for 10 points, he put up a much more efficient final two quarters to shoot 4-6 from the field for 11 points. Even more important was how he got his buckets in the 2nd half, knocking down three of his five attempts from behind the arc after missing all three of his attempts from distance in the first half.
LeBron added 11 rebounds, three blocks, two steals, and five assists in the game, impacting things in multiple ways and becoming much more of an off-ball player doing the little things to close out possessions late in the game as Austin and Rui took on bigger responsibilities.
And really, that is the story of this opening contest. The Grizzlies fought hard and got some excellent performances with Jaren Jackson, Jr. scoring a game-high 31 points (12-21 shooting) and Ja Morant chipping in 18 points (8-14 shooting) before leaving the game with a hand injury in the 4th quarter. Jackson, in particular, was excellent and showed off great ability score vs. single coverage when not defended by Davis. But it was the Lakers who proved to be the deeper and more well round team, particularly on offense, in Game 1.
The Lakers will try to bottle this type of effort and bring with them when they play Game 2 on Wednesday.