2023 Playoffs: West First Round | Grizzlies (2) vs. Lakers (7)

5 takeaways from Lakers' Game 1 win against Grizzlies

Breaking down L.A.'s huge series-opening victory in Memphis, during which Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves dominated and Ja Morant left with a wrist injury.

The Grizzlies could be short-handed after Ja Morant injures his wrist late in Game 1.

MEMPHIS – Five takeaways from the Los Angeles Lakers’ 128-112 Game 1 victory over the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum:

1. It’s hard to get dressed with one hand, let alone win in the NBA

You try pulling on an undershirt, a T-shirt and a hoodie without using your right hand at all. Ja Morant did it an hour or so after Sunday’s game. That hand, already hurt last week against Milwaukee, was tender and bandaged before he put it down to brace himself with 5:48 left in the final quarter. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis had stepped in on the high-flying Morant to take a charge and the Memphis guard came crashing down, his hands taking most of the impact.

Morant was slow to get up, then yelled in pain and held that hand with his left, running all the way back to the Grizzlies’ locker room. For all practical purposes, the game ended there for Memphis: Already down 105-101, they were blown out 23-11 the rest of the way.

X-rays were negative, Memphis coach Tayler Jenkins said afterward, adding: “He’s in some pain.”

Clearly. Morant’s right hand mostly hung limp as he dressed, resting occasionally on the blue vinyl seat at his stall. He didn’t use it to tug on his crew socks, then went with the left exclusively when shoehorning into his street sneakers as well.

And now the Grizzlies and their fans will be waiting nervously for updates to see if Morant will be able to play in Wednesday’s Game 2. When you might expect plucky optimism, with three days of healing ahead, Morant was instead pessimistic, feeling the pain and questioning whether his hand would improve in time.

“It’s tough, man,” Morant said. “Especially with everything I’ve been through, pretty much this season. My main focus is to be out there for my guys. Now another incident where that’s pretty much in jeopardy. It’s pretty much how much now I can tolerate. If I feel like I can go out there, be somewhat myself, I’ll probably play. But I don’t want to do anything to hurt the team.”

“Very tough. Stressful. I’m pretty much taking in what happened. I don’t know, man, I’m pretty much numb. Not even surprised. It’s one thing after another.”

2. Lakers’ new Big 2?

Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves gave the Lakers a huge boost with 29 and 23 points, respectively.

They’re them, or something like that. At one point, Lakers guard Austin Reaves shouted “I’m him” in the midst of a wildly unexpected playoff debut performance. The once-fringe shooter, now starting, scored 23 points in front of a large contingent of family and friends who had driven over from his native Arkansas.

Reaves scored seven points in the first quarter, then ignited for 14 in the fourth and had the Grizzlies reeling.

Rui Hachimura was right there with him with nine points in the final quarter, including a ferocious throwdown over Jaren Jackson Jr.. Hachimura finished with 29 points, single-handedly outscoring Memphis’ thinned bench (24 points). With six rebounds and five 3s on six attempts (11-for-14 overall), it was no wonder LeBron James wound up raving about the native of Toyama, Japan.

“I see the type of player he is, but he can become (great),” James said. “In order for us to reach the goal that we want to reach, he has to be a huge part of that.”

Acquired from Washington in January, the fourth-year forward became the first Laker to score 25 points or more off the bench in the postseason since [drum roll] Magic Johnson in 1996. Reaves, meanwhile, had never scored 14 points in a quarter during 125 previous NBA games.

With Davis scoring 22 (along with 12 rebounds, seven blocks and three steals) and James adding 21, the Lakers had four scorers with 20 points or more in a playoff game for the first time since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott, James Worthy and Johnson did it in 1988.

3. Memphis’ D deserved a D

Talk of playoff inexperience would seem to be overrated. So what if James (11,035) had logged more than twice as many minutes in the NBA playoffs heading into this series as the entire Grizzlies roster (5,176)? Hachimura (173) and Reaves (0) certainly weren’t at any disadvantage.

Then again, the Grizzlies’ inexperience did show up in a shoddy defensive performance in which they essentially took nothing away from L.A. Memphis got out-rebounded at both ends. The Lakers’ work on the offensive glass rewarded them with a 22-10 edge in second-change points. They shot 53.3% against a Grizzlies defense that led the NBA and set a franchise-best by holding foes to 45.3% during the regular season.

And what clearly was a point of emphasis in their attack – beat the Lakers down the floor for easy scoring opportunities – backfired on them too. L.A. finished with a 26-17 advantage in fast-break points.

We’re not going to hold that end-game unraveling against Memphis – the Lakers scored the game’s final 15 points – because Morant’s injury took the air out of his team and the building. And even if you acknowledge the defensive attention heaped on Davis and James meant opportunities for Reaves and Hachimura, there still wasn’t enough aggressiveness or crispness by a defense that prides itself on such.

“If we’re going to give up 50 points in transition and on the boards, it’s going to be tough no matter what happens in the half court,” Jenkins said. “We didn’t execute the priorities of our game plan: Get back, execute our half-court defense and get rebounds.”

4. Grizzlies’ bright spot: Jaren Jackson Jr.

Jaren Jackson Jr. was the lone bright spot for Memphis in Game 1 with 31 points.

In 17 previous playoff appearances, Memphis big man Jaren Jackson Jr. had battled foul trouble (four or more) 13 times, three times fouling out. As a result, his average playoff stint (27.6 minutes) is even shorter than the 28.4 he averaged this season. It’s a problem, depriving the Grizzlies of their best defender for roughly 20 high-stakes minutes nightly.

This time, though, Jackson stuck around for more than 37 minutes, second most of his playoff career. He made it to halftime with just one foul and led all scorers to that point with 19. A top candidate for Kia Defensive Player of the Year, Jackson blocked two shots while scoring 31 points, two shy of his personal best from Game 1 last year against Golden State.

“Obviously, they’re going to probably start throwing double teams at him,” Jenkins said.

They’d better. When the Lakers stuck James on him, Jackson didn’t hesitate to post up the all-time great to attack inside.

“I see a lot of different coverages,” Jackson said. “I don’t know which one they think is the best one, but you have to use your counters. Whatever they throw at you, they’ll throw it. I’m probably going to try and mix it up. They have a whole coaching staff over there.”

5. Reminder: Father Time is undefeated

Eventually it catches up to all of us, even some who have earned the popular “GOAT” designation. A misstep here, a bit of fatigue there, targets not hit, and so on. Time waits for no one.

LeBron? Heck, no. He looked like his ageless, formidable self, scoring those 21 points while grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing five assists, picking two steals and chasing down three blocked shots.

In this case, it was Rong Niu, better known as “Red Panda,” who had the rough night. One of the NBA’s most popular and longest-running halftime acts, Niu was at her tricycle-riding, cereal bowl-flipping best as she worked from corner to corner on the FedEx Forum court.

Then came the clatter of a couple metal bowls. Then a couple more. Niu soldiered on, trying three times to stick the landing – or stack the bowls, in her case – before the court was needed for second-half warmups. She finished with nearly as many turnovers as the hometown Grizzlies (15) but got a solid round of applause nonetheless.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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