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

5 takeaways from Lakers' Game 4 win vs. Grizzlies

A clutch performance by LeBron James pushes the revived Lakers to a 3-1 series advantage.

LeBron James comes up clutch in the 4th quarter and OT to power a Game 4 win and a 3-1 series lead on Memphis.

LOS ANGELES — For the last few years here in the Ja Morant Era, the blueprint for the up-and-coming Grizzlies was to grow gradually, allow maturity to take hold, elevate themselves in the standings and then, right about now, take that next step.

Well, what do they do with that foot if they’re standing on the edge of a cliff?

That’s where the Grizzlies, after winning 51 games in the regular season and claiming the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, find themselves this morning, pushed to the brink of their first-round series by the Lakers. It’s now 3-1, advantage to the wiser and more traditional franchise, and in the history of the NBA playoffs the team holding a 3-1 lead wins roughly 95% of the time.

Yes, there are exceptions — remember when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers had that grim reality in the 2016 NBA Finals? — and the Grizzlies now hope to insert themselves in select company and pull a comeback. They don’t have a choice, really, as the series shifts to Memphis in a do-or-die for the home team.

All season, the maturity of the Grizzlies came into question and at times overwhelmed the more positive result on the court. It was a tricky concoction, and now, the flaws of this team are threatening to cut their season short.

There was the Ja Morant suspension and Dillon Brooks chose to wear the black hat and yet the Grizzlies won in spite of all that. Even their coach, Taylor Jenkins, said this team must learn to walk the walk, conceding “we’re not all the way there” when it comes to that execution.

Memphis is now confronted with a possible playoff elimination at the hands of LeBron and a Lakers’ team that, after a troubling start to their season, are feeling frisky.

Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 117-111 overtime win and the series thus far:

1. Lakers are suddenly lurking

If you haven’t taken the Lakers seriously as a team that can advance to the conference finals or — heaven forbid — the NBA Finals, you might want to reconsider.

Two things to acknowledge: Nobody has looked invincible in these playoffs in the West (or even the East, with the Bucks now facing elimination against Miami), and the Lakers are arguably the hottest team of the last two months. When they needed to make plays Monday, they did. When they had to respond to runs by Memphis, they did. When they needed their legend to step forward, he did. LeBron turned in a low-key, masterful performance in Game 4: 22 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists, including the game-tying basket in the final second of regulation that forced overtime.

Really, though, the effort has been collective, since February (when the Lakers made a series of key trades and moves) and in this series. Austin Reeves, the undrafted diamond in the rough, produced 23 points as these types of efforts are no longer a surprise by him. D’Angelo Russell keyed the Lakers’ rally with a big fourth quarter, hitting three straight 3-pointers during one stretch, before fouling out. Overall, the Lakers’ defense, once a sore spot, held the Grizzlies to 39.6% shooting overall and 21.4% on 3-pointers. Suddenly, a team that sat in 11th place before the All-Star break is not only worthy of getting beyond the first round and toppling the No. 2 seed, these Lakers have legs, a scary sight for the rest of the West.

2. More hot and cold from Davis

Nobody on the Lakers was more relieved by this latest win than Davis. He was bailed out by his teammates after enduring a rough night that was punctuated when he grimaced in pain after a fall. Davis did manage to pick himself off the floor moments after being challenged at the rim by Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., but kept holding his hip and back. He didn’t hit his second basket of the game until midway through the fourth quarter. He missed key free throws in the stretch.

With five minutes left, he pushed off against Desmond Bane and was whistled for an offensive foul with the Lakers trailing by four. He finished with 12 points and four turnovers. At least Davis did deliver a key block of Morant just prior to the fourth-quarter buzzer, but overall, he was flawed, just as he was two games ago when he finished with just 13 points in the only Lakers loss in this series. Davis did bounce back with a dominant effort in Game 3 with 31 points and 17 rebounds. If that pattern holds up, the Grizzlies will have their hands full in Game 5.

3. Air Morant deals with crash landings

An airborne Ja Morant crashes into LeBron James in one of his several high-flying falls in Game 4.

Morant will either reach the rim or die trying. At least it seems that way whenever he goes airborne. That’s how he hurt his wrist last week, which caused him to miss a game, and that’s how he spent a frightening portion of Game 4. The good news for the Grizzlies — and actually, the entire NBA, given his worth to the league — is Morant survived a pair of falls. The last one was especially freaky, resulting in a near somersault after crashing into LeBron about, oh, a mile high in the air with the game tied at 99. For a small guard, Morant is unique in how he attacks the rim with courage and conviction. He constantly puts his body on the line and doesn’t worry about any consequences.

He’ll just adjust as necessary, which he did repeatedly Monday when he favored his left hand instead of his natural and sore right hand for dribble penetration and shots, none more remarkable than his slashing, left-handed dunk over LeBron to beat the third-quarter buzzer. If you want to know how Morant is feeling physically, or his thoughts on the game and this series, well, don’t hold your breath. He took a vow of silence after the game, saying to reporters: “See y’all boys tomorrow.” OK, then.

4. LeBron owned the moment of truth

The beauty of LeBron is how he can read a game and choose how to manage it. He spent much of the night allowing his teammates to prosper (Reeves, Jared Vanderbilt) and others to work through their issues (Davis, Russell). LeBron never forced the issue, never panicked when the Lakers stumbled, and picked his spots to come to the rescue.

For example, he sat on 16 points until the fourth quarter demanded more points from him. His driving layup that beat the fourth-quarter buzzer was his first basket of the quarter. Then, with Russell on the bench after collecting his sixth foul, LeBron took charge in OT, punctuating the win with a three-point play over Brooks, which LeBron took special delight in doing (and his primal scream said it all). Oh, and keep in mind that LeBron is in his 20th season, with all the tread wear from deep playoff runs.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said: “He still has that passion, that grit to put his team on top. That’s what he’s been all about, making the right play. He’s doing whatever it takes for his team to succeed.”

5. Bane delivers for the Grizzlies

The best player on the floor for Memphis wasn’t whom you’d expect. Not that Desmond Bane’s Game 4 production was a major surprise — he has steadily grown into a solid supporting player next to Morant. But it was how he delivered Monday. He was aggressive all night and beat the Lakers repeatedly, not with the 3-point shot — his specialty — but on mid-range jumpers and off-the-dribble drives to the hoop. Only three of his 13 made shots came from deep. He kept the Lakers on their heels because evidently, the Lakers read the scouting report correctly but didn’t anticipate Bane switching up.

And so, his 36 points and seven rebounds were, all things considered, the finest playoff game of his career. With the Grizzlies still getting nothing in this series from Brooks — he’s shooting less than 40% and also sub-30% from deep despite the Lakers leaving him open — Memphis can use as much offensive support for Morant as it can get. For one night, the Grizzlies had someone who was actually more point-productive than Morant. And in the end, it meant nothing.

Desmond Bane finished with 36 points in the Game 4 loss.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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