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3 takeaways from the Lakers’ Game 2 loss to the Grizzlies

With an inadequate effort to open the game, the Lakers found themselves in a halftime hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of for the first time this postseason.

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

After dominating the Grizzlies to close out Game 1 and finding out that Ja Morant wouldn’t be able to suit up for Game 2 only hours before tip-off, the Lakers looked set to take a 2-0 lead home with them to Los Angeles. Instead, the Grizzlies improved their record without Ja Morant to 33-17 over the last two regular seasons and playoffs, evening the series at 1-1 with a 103-93 win.

With the series now tied at one game apiece heading back to Los Angeles, here are three takeaways from the Lakers’ second playoff game.

Starting slow

Despite winning Game 1 by 16, the Lakers finished the first half down 6, needing a huge second-half push to take the lead and ultimately come away with the victory. After a lethargic open to Game 2, the Lakers have been outscored by 21 points before the break, while outscoring the Grizzlies by 27 points across the two games’ final two frames. If you include the play-in too, that differential balloons to minus-32 and plus-44 across the third and fourth quarters and overtime.

Despite their talent advantage with two first-ballot hall of famers in their starting five, the lack of intensity and decisiveness to open games has made life harder for the Lakeshow than it has to be. Further, as a seven-seed that has been playing well together for only a couple of months, deciding to flip the switch is a luxury they haven’t genuinely earned. Even if they can squeak by the Grizzlies without putting the pedal to the metal for the full 48, they haven’t displayed the kind of winning habits that will allow for a deep playoff run, let alone a championship.


D’Angelo Russell is a player who thrives when he plays the game at his own pace. After eight NBA seasons, Russell’s been able to find that groove more often than ever, posting career highs this season in scoring and playmaking efficiency — even turning into a decent team defender based on his awareness of where he should be on the floor at any given moment (usually). That was not the case in Game 2:

Given his obvious athletic limitations — namely, his weak lower body limiting his burst and balance to endure contact — he has also struggled to score against opponents with high-level athletes on the perimeter, regardless of the overall quality of the team.

For example, in the final stages of the regular season, D’Lo laid eggs in two games against Houston’s younger, sprier guards. That trend has only been exacerbated in the postseason with D’Lo making 10 of 37 field goal attempts in the Lakers’ three games since the end of the regular season. It continued a nasty trend for his postseason career:

While he has continued to playmake at an elite clip on the whole, dishing out 19 dimes to seven turnovers, the Lakers need more from D’Angelo Russell than what he’s given them so far.

Silver linings

On a night where they clearly came out of the box a couple of steps behind the Grizzlies — scoring fewer than 100 points for the first time in 2023 — and Xavier Tillman surprised even himself with a greater scoring output than he’s ever had in an NBA game, the Lakers still had a chance to win, cutting the Grizzlies’ lead to only six points in the game’s final frame.

Rui Hachimura continues to look increasingly confident in the purple and gold, scoring 20-plus points off the bench for the second-straight game and becoming the first Laker to do so in consecutive playoff games since Magic Johnson did so in 1996. If the Lakers have another move to make, it’s sliding him into the starting lineup for Jarred Vanderbilt, especially if Ja Morant is unable to suit up in Game 3.

Perhaps most importantly, LeBron looked more like himself than he did in Game 1. Despite his inability to find his jumper, making just one of his eight threes, LeBron got up seven shots in the paint in the second half after tallying only two such attempts in the latter quarters of Game 1.

So even with almost everything going wrong for the Lakers in Game 2, they’ve taken home-court advantage from the Grizzlies with a split in Memphis and plenty of opportunities for improvement. If tonight’s loss was the kick in the shorts they needed to start cutting back on the self-inflicted wounds early in games, the Lakers can and should take care of business in front of a home crowd in Game 3 on Saturday.

Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.

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