On Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers had a small lead of six points over the Memphis Grizzlies as they started the fourth quarter of Game 1 in their first-round series. Surprisingly, LeBron James and Anthony Davis only took one shot each in the first 11 minutes of the quarter. However, the Lakers managed to win the game with a score of 128-112, thanks to the outstanding performance of a bench player and an undrafted player who had graduated from college just two years ago.
Rui Hachimura, with 29 points in total, equaled Mychal Thompson’s Lakers team record for most points scored by a substitute in a playoff game, with nine of them coming in the fourth quarter. Austin Reaves, on the other hand, scored 23 points in total, going 5-for-5 in the fourth quarter, and earning nine consecutive points in the late minutes of the quarter. James, who contributed 21 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks, acknowledged that it was the supporting cast who played a significant role in winning the game.
During halftime, the Lakers were in a difficult situation and required additional effort from their team members. Davis, who had an impressive performance with 22 points, 12 rebounds, 7 blocks, and 3 steals, became the first player in almost two decades to achieve such postseason stats, just like Tim Duncan. Unfortunately, he suffered a stinger to his right shoulder and had to leave the game in the second quarter, while the Lakers were trailing by six points.
In the third quarter, Hachimura made all four of his 3-point attempts in just six minutes of playing time, which allowed the Lakers to regain control. Hachimura, who has been with the team for four years after being traded from Washington in January, mentioned that he had practiced these specific shots prior to the game. With the help of Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy, who analyzed the gaps in the Grizzlies’ defense that Hachimura could exploit, he knew where to target. Hachimura explained that because of the way the Grizzlies defend him, they usually stay in the paint, making it necessary for him to be prepared to take those kinds of shots.
Desmond Bane, the Grizzlies guard, acknowledged that their strategy for Game 1 was to challenge Hachimura and make him hit challenging shots, which he successfully did. Bane commended Hachimura for his remarkable performance, admitting it was probably his best game of his career. However, Bane hinted at a challenge, questioning if Hachimura could deliver the same results in Game 2. On the other hand, Reaves, who signed a two-way contract with the Lakers in 2021, finished the game. He went undrafted from Oklahoma but was later promoted to a permanent member of the team before the season started.
Reaves expressed, “This is the kind of stage you fantasize about being on,” and added, “I had a great time and heated up towards the end.” The Lakers had not seen four players scoring 20 or more in a playoff game since May 15, 1988, when James Worth, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Byron Scott achieved the feat. Additionally, D’Angelo Russell’s performance of 19 points and seven assists was almost enough to make it five players scoring 20 or more.
Although the L.A. team has won 10 of their last 12 matches, including the play-in game against Minnesota that secured them the No. 7 spot against No. 2 Memphis, there were indications of a decline. The Lakers appeared lackluster in their last four regular-season games, which included a defeat to the Clippers, and their performance against Minnesota was at best disjointed and at worst, undisciplined.During the four-day hiatus between their win over the Wolves and their Game 1 against Memphis, Lakers coach Darvin Ham stated that his team utilized this time to reevaluate and recalibrate.
Ham stated that during the final week of the season, particularly during the play-in game, they lost control of possessions by making hasty decisions such as not passing enough or taking quick shots. However, following a team meeting where James and Davis emphasized the heightened intensity required for playoffs, L.A. became more focused and appears to have regained the same momentum that led them to the playoffs initially.
Ham stated that the goal of the break is to maximize productivity from the group. He explained that this can be achieved by identifying strategies that will work against the opposing team and disregarding the ones that won’t. In addition, taking a thorough evaluation of the team’s offense and determining what has been effective and what hasn’t is crucial. Overall, the break is a combination of these factors, allowing the team to approach the game with a fresh perspective.
Despite the Lakers’ impressive performance in the first game of the series against the Grizzlies, in which they successfully took the home-court advantage from their opponents, LeBron James chose to focus on some of the negatives from Sunday’s game. Specifically, he acknowledged that the Lakers had committed 16 turnovers which resulted in 15 points for the Grizzlies. James also took responsibility for five of those turnovers himself. While he praised his teammates for their efforts, James believed that there was still room for improvement and that they could perform even better in the upcoming games.