In an absolute slugfest of an overtime game, it was LeBron James who came up big down the stretch of regulation and the extra frame to carry the Lakers to a 117-111 victory over Memphis on Monday night. The win gives the Lakers a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, leaving them one win away from advancing to the next round.
In his 20th season, LeBron again showed why he holds the stature he does in this league, scoring 20 points, grabbing a career-high 20 rebounds, dishing out 7 assists, and blocking two shots in the type of big game performance he's provided so many times over his career. He became only the 8th player in history to hit these benchmarks in a playoff game, and the first since Kevin Garnett in 2004.
It wasn't just the raw production that made this game special, but rather the magnitude of the plays that he made down the stretch in the most crucial possessions. With the Lakers trailing by two and only 6.7 seconds left in regulation, LeBron hit the OT-forcing shot when, after catching the ball at the top of the floor, he ripped through to his right hand, drove hard to the paint, and then threw up a high-arching layup over the outstretched arm of Jaren Jackson, Jr that fell through the hoop with only 0.8 seconds left on the clock.
And then, once the game got to OT, it was again LeBron who proved the critical figure, not only controlling the pace and tempo of the Lakers attack, but in making the biggest shot of the period.
With the Lakers up by three and 37.2 seconds remaining, the Lakers needed a single basket to make it a two-possession game and effectively ice the contest. And, as he did at the end of regulation, LeBron answered the call with another drive, this time to his left hand where he powered to the hoop against Dillon Brooks to score with a short bank shot while drawing the foul to push the lead to five and put the game out of reach.
Though LeBron was fantastic, this win was the result of a great team effort on both sides of the ball. While Anthony Davis struggled offensively with a 12-point night on 4-13 shooting, he was again wonderful defensively with four blocked shots, two steals, and countless other impactful plays on that end of the floor. AD was also big in overtime, scoring five points on 2-3 shooting, including a huge tip-in with just over a minute left to push the Lakers lead back up to three points.
D'Angelo Russell was also a critical figure in the Lakers even getting this game to overtime in the first place. With the Lakers' offense really out of sorts and the team down seven points with only five minutes left in the 4th quarter, Russell caught fire with his jumper, knocking down three consecutive three pointers to give the Lakers a lead and really get them back into the game.
And then there was Austin Reaves, whose steady production and shot making was huge all game. Austin led the Lakers with 23 points on the night, going 7-16 from the floor while grabbing four rebounds and dishing out six assists. Whether it was his ability to knock down his jumper, draw fouls, or get all the way to the rim for finishes inside, Austin came up as big as any other player to help the team come out on top.
Of course, the specialness of the Lakers performance was needed because of the level the Grizzlies were able to get to and how competitive they were all game. Desmond Bane exhibited great shot making over the course of the contest, leading them with 36 points on 13-29 shooting while operating as a key offensive initiator on many of their 2nd half possessions.
Beyond Bane, Ja Morant scored 19 points (8-24 shooting) to go along with seven assists while Jackson, Jr. contributed a double-double with 14 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. Jackson's rim protection was a great equalizer for the Grizzlies' defense, and his ability to hold down the restricted area was critical not just in keeping the game as close as it was, but was a major factor contributing to the physical nature of the game.
It was the Lakers, however, who were able to grind the Grizzlies down with their own defense while making enough plays down the stretch to get the victory. The Lakers held Memphis 39.6% from the field, including 9-42 from behind the arc. And though Memphis battled through many of these misses with excellent work on their offensive glass (16 total, 24 second chance points), only one of those came in OT as the Lakers were much better finishing possessions in those final five minutes.
And, so, here the Lakers are. Three chances to win a single game that would send them to the 2nd round. They'll look to get that victory when the series resumes on Wednesday when the Lakers will be back in Memphis for Game 5.