Of course, the team deserves the lion’s share of praise for the victory, but the cacophony of enthusiasm for the team’s first full-capacity playoff game in a decade — and their hatred and derision of Grizzlies forward and certified bear food Dillon Brooks — reverberated from The Crypt and out through televisions around the world as the team opened up the third game of the first round with a 35-9 quarter that allowed them to coast (far too often, literally) to a 111-101 victory to secure a 2-1 lead in this series.
Lakers fans were booing Brooks all the way from warmups to his introduction in the starting lineup, and cheering his misses; both pregame and as he started to show some early jitters on his janky jumper over the first 12 minutes. The entire Grizzlies roster looked like a far cry from the group that was “fine in the west,” and more like a team that wasn’t sure if they could even crack double digits in their first playoff game in Los Angeles. The Lakers fed off the energy in as dominant a quarter on both ends as we’ve seen from them this year, with pterodactyl arms coming from everywhere to alter or block shots and swish after swish on the other end.
Ja Morant looked shaky early with his ailing hand (he recovered to finish with 45 points, more on that in a minute), while Brooks looked most comfortable passing the ball off the rim to teammates for offensive rebounds and putbacks than someone ready to truly go toe-to-toe with a bear. When Rui Hachimura kept up the offensive onslaught that Desmond Bane probably still doesn’t think he can do a fourth time with a 7-0 run on his own after initially checking in off the bench, the game looked like it would be over before it even started.
Unfortunately, the Lakers played like it, coming out in the second quarter with a level of energy that implied they thought they had 20-plus-point lead with five minutes left rather than 35, and their questionable shot selection combined with Memphis settling down allowed the Grizzlies to outscore them by 10 in the second frame and trail by just 16 at halftime.
Less than a minute into the second half, Brooks decided that figuratively poking the bear in the media wasn’t good enough, and decided to literally poke him (in the balls), getting ejected for a Flagrant 2 punch to James’ nether regions. Hopefully Brooks isn’t suspended for Game 4, because without Brooks’ attempts to shatter the backboard with long-range bricks that may have been Los Angeles’ best defense in the first half, Memphis continued to climb back into the game, cutting the lead to as little as 13 in the third quarter after a missed dunk from James resulted in a Bane three on the other end.
But after receiving a ton of criticism — including from himself — for his offensive effort in Game 2, Anthony Davis took control of the game in the third, scoring four consecutive buckets against Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. to push the lead back to 20 points heading into the final frame.
As we’ve seen with this team time and time again this year, however, these Lakers aren’t content to live in prosperity. After the Grizzlies made some headway going to the rim while Davis was on the bench to start the fourth, some inattentive or nonexistent closeouts allowed a few threes to cut the lead to as little as 13 again, keeping the door open for what would have been truly wild Grizzlies comeback. Thankfully for the Lakers, they got a few answers from Austin Reaves, first on a putback and then on a big three to push things back to 18 with just over five minutes remaining. Morant continued to score at will, cutting the deficit to as little as 9, but the Lakers provided just enough answers on the other end to hold on in a finish that was far nervier than it should have been.
Also of note: Morant’s calf cramped up at the end and left him unable to get back on defense, so his availability with both his hand and that malady will be worth watching moving forward.
James finished with 25, just 15 points short of earning Brooks’ respect, while Davis had 31 to go with his 17 rebounds. Hachimura continued earning his #PlayoffRui moniker with 16 off the bench, while D’Angelo Russell recovered from a bad Game 3 to give the team 17 points and 7 assists while making all five of his free throws.
The Lakers won’t have much time to celebrate this win with Game 4 in a little less than 48 hours on Monday, and they can’t enjoy it too much anyway — the job’s not finished, after all, and they have plenty to correct from that lethargic finish.
But after a completely lackluster Game 2 where they declined an opportunity to step on the opponent’s throat while missing an All-Star, they (and the eager home crowd at The Crypt) went for the kill as early as possible in this one. Neither could keep up that level of intensity the entire game, but Memphis eventually bled out just the same. If L.A. can keep attacking with the energy and effort they showed early in this one, they appear to be in good position to exploit their matchup advantages and take full control of this series.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.