In a game where the Lakers had a record-breaking 1st quarter and Ja Morant scored 22 consecutive points in 4th quarter, it was the Lakers’ early-game success that won out and allowed them to hold off the hard-charging Grizzlies to take Game 3 and grab a 2-1 series lead on Saturday night.
In front of a raucous home crowd that had waited a decade to be able to come out in full force for a playoff game, the Lakers blitzed the Grizzlies early to take control of the game. With nearly every starter getting into the action, the Lakers scored 18 of the game’s first 20 points to put Memphis on its heels and put them into hole they’d try to dig out of all night.
Led by their defense, the Lakers forced turnovers and contested shots all over the floor to create opportunities to get into their offensive sets early or hunt transition chances. By the time the 1st quarter was over, the Lakers led 35-9, giving them the largest 1st quarter lead in a playoff game in franchise history while also holding Memphis to the lowest point total in a quarter all season.
When you get such a commanding lead early, the rest of the game can easily become an exercise in managing the scoreboard as much as continuing to do what got you the lead in the first place. And, for the Lakers, that was mostly true in this game while the Grizzlies, to their credit, never gave in and continued to seek out ways to make dents in their deficit.
In the 2nd quarter, they shaved 10 points off the Lakers lead, mostly with a 13-3 run over the final couple of minutes heading into halftime. The Lakers weren’t able to summon the same defensive intensity they had early in the game, and with the Grizzlies getting more baskets, they were better able to set their halfcourt defense and, in turn, create a more challenging environment for the Lakers to score.
In the 3rd quarter the game took another turn, however, when Dillon Brooks was ejected for a flagrant foul penalty two committed against LeBron just 17 seconds into the half. Defending LeBron full court, Brooks reached in as LeBron changed direction with a behind the back dribble and hit James in the groin. After reviewing the play, the referees ruled the foul ejection worthy, and Brooks was done for the night.
After that, though the Grizzlies were able to stabilize things and not let the ejection disrupt them, the Lakers were able to create more scoring chances by recapturing some of their early game energy. Again led by their defense, the Lakers forced six turnovers in the period and were able to get out on the break to turn those miscues into seven points — including a monster dunk by LeBron that had to be seen to be believed:
Anthony Davis was also great in the quarter, getting into a rhythm offensively and really going to work after a couple of adjustments allowed him to catch the ball on the move and get downhill to attack the basket more. Davis scored 15 of his team-high 31 points in the quarter, mixing in jumpers with strong finishes in the paint to allow the Lakers to stretch their lead back to 20 heading into the 4th quarter.
In that final frame, however, the game was less about continuing to find ways to crack the Grizzlies defense or ratchet up the defensive pressure and more about keeping Memphis at arm’s length and fending off Morant’s relentless push to score. From pull up three pointers to floaters to finishes at the rim in both the half court and transition, Ja had an unreal quarter and was singlehandedly trying to bring his team back.
And he nearly did it, too, but the Lakers had not only built up too big a lead, but they also made enough timely plays themselves to ensure the game would never be fully threatened. Whether it was some timely free throws from LeBron — who scored six of his 25 points in the final frame — or an important D’Angelo Russell jumper to push the Lakers lead back up to 11 with a minute left, the Lakers were able to hold on despite Ja’s game-high 45 points — including 24 in the final quarter.
The series will resume on Monday where the Lakers will look to get another critical win at home.