Did you miss playoff basketball?
Monday was the prototypical NBA playoff game as the Lakers and Grizzlies went toe to toe through four quarters and an overtime. Both teams realized the importance of the contest, the Lakers knowing they could take a stranglehold on the series and Memphis knowing its season was effectively on the line.
What played out was a physical battle that left both sides reeling. Ultimately, the Lakers came out on top 117-111 to, in fact, grab that hold of the series. Let’s look at three takeaways from the contest.
By basically every metric and measure, this game was hideous. The Lakers played a good about 20 minutes to open, then grinded out the next 28 minutes.
That’s what playoff basketball is, though. It informs you so much about your team. Your strengths. Your weaknesses. And wins like this bond a team together. The Lakers are building chemistry on the fly this season but a win like this fast-tracks so much of that.
Wins don’t have to be pretty in the postseason. They don’t need to include dominating first quarters or incredible fourths. They need to have your side with more points at the final buzzer than the opponent.
The Lakers accomplished that in their most important game of the year so far, on a night when they didn’t have it going for so much of the contest. Impressive.
Man, he’s just special.
LeBron hasn’t had to be Superman much this series because the Lakers have given him the supporting cast where he wasn’t required. They needed Superman on a couple of very big possessions on Monday and he donned the cape as if he never took it off.
Needing a score to extend the game, LeBron finished a “Tier 3” layup off the glass over Jaren Jackson Jr. Needing a score to ice the game, he banked in a layup with a foul against Dillon Brooks before roaring like the bear he is to the crowd.
LEBRON JAMES IS IN #PLAYOFFMODE— NBA (@NBA) April 25, 2023
CLUTCH AND-1 AS GAME 4 COMES TO A CLOSE ON TNT. pic.twitter.com/mRmbgssUzQ
Amidst that, he had his first career 20-20 game and the first for the Lakers since Shaquille O’Neal in 2004. It’s also the most rebounds he’s had in his career.
LeBron is still pretty hampered by his foot injury in some ways. He’s 38 years old. He’s on tired legs. And he still is capable of moments and plays like this. At the highest level, against the Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Defensive Team candidate, he was everything the Lakers needed him to be down the stretch.
The D’Angelo Russell postseason experience has been a wild one. I’d contend that despite his poor shooting, he’s been a positive for the Lakers with his passing and general ability to run the offense.
“Despite the poor shooting” though is a hard one to overcome when it’s such an integral part of Russell’s value to a team. And through the first 43 minutes of Monday’s game, it was another lackluster scoring night from Russell as the Lakers look set to squander another opportunity.
It’s really hard to overstate how important the 9-0 run he went on in the span of one minute was. Starting with a 3-pointer at the 4:55 mark and ending with a 3-pointer at the 3:55 mark, Russell gave the Lakers not just a spark to the offense, but a lifeline. They looked dead in the water and he brought them back to life.
That the Lakers were in a position to win ugly or for LeBron’s late-game heroics all was only possible because of Russell.
What a night. What a win.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.