The Los Angeles Lakers led the Memphis Grizzlies by six points entering the fourth quarter of Game 1 of their first-round series on Sunday.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis each tried one shot in the opening 11 minutes of the fourth period.
Despite this, Los Angeles won 128-112 as a bench player and a man who went undrafted out of college only two years ago took control.
Rui Hachimura’s 29 points came in the fourth quarter, matching Mychal Thompson’s Lakers club mark for most points by a replacement in a playoff game. Austin Reaves shot 5-for-5 in the fourth quarter, including nine consecutive points late in the quarter, for a total of 23 points.
“It was our supporting cast that won us the game tonight,” James, who finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks, stated.
With things looking bleak at halftime, the Lakers needed the additional effort from their players. Davis received a stinger to his right shoulder and had to leave the game late in the second quarter after finishing with 22 points, 12 rebounds, 7 blocks, and 3 steals, becoming the first player since Tim Duncan almost 20 years ago to do so.
At the moment, the Lakers were behind by six points.
Then, in the third quarter, Hachimura went 4-for-4 from three points, putting L.A. back in front.
“The way they’re going to guard me, they’re going to be in the paint, so I’ve got to be ready to shoot those kinds of shots,” Hachimura said.
Desmond Bane, Grizzlies guard, acknowledged this when issuing a challenge to Hachimura in Game 2.
“That was our game plan going in — to make him hit shots, and he did,” Bane said. “Raise your glass. It’s most likely his finest game of his career. The series consists of seven games. Let’s see whether he can repeat it on Wednesday.”
Reaves finished things off after signing a two-way deal with the Lakers in the summer of 2021 after going undrafted out of Oklahoma and eventually being converted to a full-fledged member of the club before the season started.
“You daydream about being on a stage like this,” Reaves said. “And I got hot late and had fun.”
The Lakers had four players score 20 or more points in a playoff game for the first time since May 15, 1988, when James Worth, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Byron Scott accomplished it. And D’Angelo Russell (19 points, seven assists) was on the verge of making it five.
While Los Angeles had won 10 of its previous 12 games, including a play-in victory over Minnesota on Tuesday to claim the No. 7 seed versus No. 2 Memphis, there were symptoms of deterioration. The Lakers’ last four regular-season games, which included a defeat to the Clippers, were fragmented at best and undisciplined at worst.
Darvin Ham, the Lakers’ coach, said his squad took the four-day break between the Wolves victory and Game 1 against Memphis to re-calibrate.
“The last week or so of the season or so, the play-in game, possessions got away from us,” Ham said. “We threw away possessions with no or one pass and then shot.”
After a team lecture by James and Davis on the heightened energy required for the playoffs, L.A. seemed to have rediscovered the momentum that took them to the playoffs in the first place.
“How can we get the most output out of this group as possible?” Ham explained the purpose of the vacation. “And here’s how. This is what will work against this team and what we need to investigate; this is what we need to set aside.
While the Lakers began the series with a bang, seizing home-court advantage from the Grizzlies in their bid to become the first No. 7 seed to pull off a first-round shock since San Antonio in 2010, James concentrated on some of the negative from Sunday. He pointed out that Los Angeles’ 16 mistakes resulted in 15 points for the Grizzlies and accepted responsibility for his own five.
“I thought the guys definitely understood that assignment and were really good tonight,” James said. “But I think we can do even better.”
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