Despite the double-digit final result, the contest was a back-and-forth battle for the majority of its duration until a late surge behind some unlikely parties helped deliver the win.
There was no shortage of drama from both teams in Game 1, but the Lakers did potentially reveal a roadmap toward a series victory while also still having plenty of areas that require attention.
Here are three takeaways from the contest.
Success in the playoffs often boils down to star power. Yes, there are many other variables that play a role, but talent typically is what wins out over a seven-game series.
While the Lakers proved the importance of this notion on Sunday, namely behind Anthony Davis’ stellar two-way performance, it was the tandem of Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura however, that helped secure the win.
With the Grizzles’ strong close to the first half, the Lakers needed a spark coming out of the locker room to help swing momentum back their way. That spark was provided by Hachimura in the third quarter as he drilled all four of his attempts from behind the arc in the frame alone.
Hachimura’s makes from deep not only were important given the Grizzlies being on the verge of creating separation on the scoreboard, but also in the context of how it took advantage of their defensive strategy.
Memphis was aggressive in its “nail” help in Game 1, specifically whenever the likes of LeBron James or Davis were in the post. This help typically saw Grizz defenders stray from the Lakers’ shooters stationed above the break. After failing to exploit this opening in the first half, Hachimura cashed in during the second.
The Lakers’ role players will need to continue to make the defense pay for cheating off of them.
Reaves’ impact also came on the offensive end of the floor, but in a different fashion. With the game up for grabs, and James and Davis on the floor, the Lakers turned to Reaves to facilitate the offense in the clutch.
It was a giant vote of confidence given the situation, but Reaves calmly and confidently delivered.
With the ball in his hands, and a two-point-lead, the 24-year-old proceeded to dish a slick behind-the-back pass to Hachimura for a three, hit a pull-up jumper, scored on a drive to the rim, hit a three of his own and then sealed the game with a fadeaway.
Reaves’ staggering closing stretch not only speaks to his individual growth this season, but the team’s bolstered depth at large. Beyond Hachimura and Reaves’ big games, D’Angelo Russell also had a strong outing with 19 points and 7 assists.
For perspective, Hachimura’s 29 points tied Mychal Thompson for the most points ever by a Lakers’ reserve, and it was the first time since 1988 that the Lakers had four 20-point scorers in a playoff game.
Regardless of the end result, the collective “others” did not shy away from the moment in Game 1. This bodes well the further the team progresses, especially when one of the team’s stars isn't at his most sharp.
LeBron James’ shot-selection
While the Lakers’ win was a true group effort, individually, James struggled to find his rhythm against Memphis in the series opener.
Historically, it’s worth noting that Game 1’s often are about “feeling-out” the opposition’s game plan against him and his team, according to James.
That said, there was a level of tepidness from James in terms of how he chose to attack the defense that will likely need some tinkering as the series progresses.
James’ first two attempts from the field came from behind the arc, which was a precursor to the level of aggression he was going to exert on the offensive end. Opting to mostly settle for jumpers, James was unable to get much downhill activity going, specifically in the half court.
This was only further compounded in the second half, where — while James did finally see his outside looks begin to fall — he would go on to attempt just one basket in the paint (a transition layup) in the final 24 minutes.
Beyond the shot selection itself, James also noticeably was more off-the-ball down the stretch. Most seen with Reaves’ aforementioned late-game responsibilities, James also was positioned in the weakside slot as Russell ran strong side screen-roll action. This did create cleaner looks for James, but was an interesting choice given the stage and stakes.
Perhaps the most glaring stat of James’ night was the fact he attempted just one shot in the final quarter. He also failed to log an assist. It was just the 9th time in his career where James had one field-goal attempt or fewer in the fourth quarter and his team ended up winning.
As he always does, James still found a way to leave his fingerprints on the game, namely though his defense. But as the series grinds on, the Lakers will need James at his most assertive to help put them over the top.
Ja Morant and Anthony Davis injury updates
Regardless of which team you root for, the last thing you want to decide the outcome of a game is an injury. Unfortunately, both teams had their share scares on that front Sunday.
For the Lakers, their scary moment came in the closing minutes of the first half when Davis grabbed his arm following an offensive rebound. Tangled with multiple Grizzlies, Davis immediately called to the bench to be subbed out after visibly proclaiming he couldn't move his arm.
Davis was, fortunately, able to return in the second half to help the Lakers get the win. After the game, Davis admitted his arm had gone numb and experienced a lack of mobility after the initial contact.
“Had a little stinger where my arm went completely numb. It was numb,” Davis said. “I couldn’t move it.”
On the other side, the Grizzlies’ injury luck seems to be less favorable. After crashing into Davis on a drive attempt in the fourth quarter, Morant slammed his hand onto the floor and was in obvious, tremendous pain. He then proceeded to get up and run off the court holding his hand.
Despite x-rays coming back negative, Morant’s status going forward remains up in the air. The point guard told reporters his Game 2 availability is “in jeopardy” following the contest, as he had difficulty using his right hand in tests.
Ja Morant says his status for Game 2 is “in jeopardy.” He was downtrodden and not even able to use his right hand to undo a balled-up pair of socks. “Feels like it’s one thing after another.”— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 16, 2023
When Morant returns and how impacted he may be from the fall could dramatically change the outlook of this series.
Hopefully there is good news on the injury front from both sides between now and Game 2 on Wednesday. The small sample we got from this series made it appear to be amongst the most competitive first-round matchups in the league, and hopefully everyone involved will be able to stay healthy and contribute.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.