On Monday, the Lakers found themselves the victor of a true barn-burner, winning 117-111 in overtime. The win gave the team a commanding 3-1 series lead with three more chances —two on the road and one at home — to close out the series and move onto the second round to take on the Warriors or Kings.
Down the stretch of both regulation and overtime, LeBron James did what he’s done for multiple franchises at multiple different instances. He put the team on his back, ending with a 22-point, 20-rebound box score, a stat line that had not happened in Lakers playoff history since one Shaquille O’Neal in 2004.
LeBron now will try and do something else he’s done often in his career, putting on an amazing individual performance to help his team win a closeout playoff game. However, he, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Lakers will have to do so on the road amidst a raucous crowd and a defiant Grizzlies team that won’t take this lying down.
Battle of personalities
It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but from the get-go this series has been evaluated as a clash of two very different teams. The Lakers are old, the Grizzlies are young. The Lakers are skilled, the Grizzlies are athletic. Of course, if you asked different Lakers players about these descriptions, I’m sure they would describe it as a battle of experience vs. inexperience.
And boy, is that battle lopsided when it comes to closeout games in the Lakers’ case and elimination games in the Grizzlies’ case.
LeBron James has played in 50 closeout games in his career, averaging 28.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 7.1 assists. Anthony Davis, of course, doesn’t have the quantity of postseason experience that LeBron does, but that doesn’t mean the quality is worse — as he’s averaged 29.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.9 stocks (steals and rebounds) per game in 6 closeout games over his career.
That “6” number may seem insanely small compared to LeBron’s “50”, however, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. don’t even combine to have that amount of elimination game experience.
Ja Morant has only played in 1 elimination playoff game since being drafted in 2019. It was a good one for him, though, as he scored 27 points while adding 11 assists. However, this was in the 2021 playoffs where the Jazz ultimately dispatched the Grizzlies in 5 games in the first round.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has appeared in 3 total elimination games in his career, playing in the closing games of second round series last season against the Warriors while Morant was injured. He’s averaged 16.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game in those contests.
As noted in Morant’s case, you can’t really fault these two players or the other, young Grizzlies players for being born years (nearing decades) before LeBron James. And hell, it may even end up working well for them in the case of Game 5. There’s a phrase of “young and stupid” that seems mean on the surface but in the Grizzlies’ case (with plenty of the latter of that phrase in Dillon Brooks), them exhibiting that phrase may result in them being able to ignore all of this history showing the odds being stacked against them.
The Lakers have seemingly fallen asleep at times in this series, most notably at the beginning of Game 2 and in the end and beginning of the first and second halves, repspectively, of Game 4. If they come into Game 5 with the same sort of lethargy, the pressure will be ratcheted back up for a Game 6 back in L.A.
On Wednesday, we’ll just have to see what wins: Experience or youthful desperation. If it’s the former, the Lakers will get a little rest before the Warriors and Kings finish their series. If it’s the latter, the Lakers and their crowd will have to bring it again to avoid a win-or-go-home Game 7 in Memphis.
Notes and Updates
- As noted previously, Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) will be probable despite the listed injury and the hip issue that I’m sure isn’t 100% despite it not being the official injury on the report. The Lakers’ report as a whole is the same as it has been all series, with LeBron James (right foot soreness) and Dennis Schröder (right Achilles soreness) also listed as probable.
- The Grizzlies have the same injury report as Game 4, with Ja Morant noticeably absent from the list again despite seeming in a tremendous amount of pain at times on Monday with his injured hand. Steven Adams (right knee PCL sprain), Brandon Clarke (left Achilles tear) and Jake LaRavia (right calf soreness) are all listed as out.
The Lakers and Grizzlies will tip off early for everyone on the West Coast, with the game starting at 4:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised nationally on TNT and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.