Coming off of a taxing overtime win in Game 4, the Lakers came out of the gates in Game 5 with a pep in their step, looking fully ready to go toe-to-toe with the Grizzlies in Memphis. But with Anthony Davis out of the game in the middle of the third, the Lakers ceded a 7-0 Memphis run, which ultimately ballooned to 19-2 by quarter’s end.
Entering the fourth down 18 was ultimately too much to overcome, and the team eventually lost 116-99. But the Lakers still lead the series 3-2, and now have a chance to close it out in a sixth game on Friday at home.
Here are three takeaways from the Game 5 that got away.
“It’s a make or miss league”
Despite the obviousness of the oft-cited truism, it is nonetheless a reasonable explanation for the relatively small sample sizes inherent to individual contests.
In Game 5, the Grizzlies made 14-40 triples (35.0%) while the Lakers hit just 10-39 (25.6%). Not only would an equal number of made threes have brought the final deficit to only five, but the Lakers’ inability to knock down open threes also encouraged Memphis' defense to clog the paint, only making it harder for the Lakers to generate good looks from inside the paint. Conversely, Memphis’s streaky shooting ultimately broke the Lakers’ defense, especially during that aforementioned stretch with AD off the floor, creating a disparity the Lakers couldn’t overcome.
The Lakers’ biggest culprit was the King himself, as LeBron made just one of nine threes, bringing his series 3-point accuracy to just five makes on 35 attempts (14%). Although he’s coming off of the fifth-worst shooting season of his career, bagging triples at an average rate would have given the Lakers an average of four-ish more points per game. Whether the series’ physicality is taking a toll on James’ lift, or he’s just going through an ill-timed slump, the Lakers may need him to have a better shooting night to win Game 6.
An on/off disaster
After limping to the finish line in Game 4 with an injury to his hip, AD looked as spry as he did in Game 3 today, finishing with a simply ridiculous 31 points and 19 rebounds. He was also dominant defensively, leading the Lakers’ to winning basketball whenever he played, as they outscored the Grizzlies by six with AD on the floor. However, the Lakers still lost the game by 17 by virtue of losing the 13 minutes Davis sat by 23 points, a preposterously poor deficit, totally undermining AD’s All-NBA-caliber, two-way performance.
Wenyen Gabriel played eight minutes, his highest total of the series, and despite (obviously) being incapable of sustaining the Lakers’ production with AD on the floor, the Lakers limited the Grizzlies’ damage to a minus-five during his two stints. And since he never shared the floor with AD, that means the Lakers lost the five minutes without a true center on the floor by 18 points, an unfathomable total it would be hard to recreate by simply sitting down on defense and running out the clock on offense.
Whether it means extending Wenyen’s minutes or dusting off their lightly used Mo Bamba, Darvin Ham would be wise to spare the Lakers from giving the Grizzlies’ bruising bigs in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman easy pickings in the interior by failing to play a true big for every minute of Game 6. Every player on the Lakers’ bench who played double-digit minutes finished no better than minus-18, and none scored in double-digits. Although their scoring total actually matched that of the Grizzlies’ bench, the Lakers’ bench couldn’t slow the Grizzlies’ offensive onslaught.
Only five games into the playoffs, both teams in this series look battered and bruised, barely able to close out games in one piece. For the Lakers, Davis has notably come up lame a number of times, including a hip injury that has been bothering him for a couple of weeks and looked particularly troublesome in Monday’s Game 4. However, Austin Reaves has been knocked down a number of times, and was especially slow to stand during a second-half spill in Game 5 (he said postgame he would play in Game 6, and just had a stinger due to a knee-to-knee collision with Jaren Jackson Jr.). Dennis Schroder, too, rolled his ankle during the play-in, and has been listed on the team’s injury report ever since with Achilles soreness. Even the King took a love tap to the crown jewels two games ago.
Coming into the series, the Grizzlies had already lost their first and second-string centers for the season, but have gotten increasingly banged up as the series has gone on. Ja Morant re-aggravated a pre-existing hand injury in Game 1 — forcing him to miss Game 2 — and in today’s game, Ja played through knee pain (as reported on the TNT broadcast), while Luke Kennard exited early with an injury to his shooting (left) shoulder and his status is in doubt for Game 6.
Obviously, Ja’s presence is more important for Memphis, but Kennard’s quietly been an X-factor, marked by his game-high +26 today. Kennard was quietly the NBA’s best 3-point shooter this season at 49.3%, and although he’s not the staunchest of perimeter defenders, the threat of his outside shooting creates space for the Grizzlies’ big three of Ja, Bane, and JJJ to go to work, inside and out.
If Kennard can’t go on Friday, or simply can’t shoot, his absence could dull the Grizzlies’ edge and help the Lakers close this one out. Still, if the Lakers (read: AD) are too banged up themselves to take advantage, it may not matter.