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The Los Angeles Lakers look to grab a 3-1 advantage at home in their series against the Memphis Grizzlies Monday after a commanding Game Three win.
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Dillon Brooks gave the Lakers all of the bulletin board material they could have asked for when he called out LeBron James for being “old” and said that he didn’t respect anyone until they scored 40 points on him. LA answered the call and erupted to a 35-9 lead at the end of the first quarter, all despite superstar Ja Morant returning to the Grizzlies’ starting lineup.
The Lakers’ dominant effort was fueled by a resurgent performance from D’Angelo Russell who, although he was still inefficient, finally contributed real scoring. Anthony Davis also found his offense, and Rui Hachimura continued his elite shooting off the bench. Games like this one are where the Lakers look like legitimate title threats, but they happen to be offset by total no-shows like Game Two.
Morant nearly put together the most spectacular comeback in NBA history but came up just a little short. He scored 22 straight points in the fourth quarter to bring the once-29-point lead down to nine, but Russell slammed the door shut with a mid-range jumper with just over a minute to go. Still, it was a historic performance from the Grizzlies’ young guard.
Davis (31 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks, two steals) and LeBron (25 points, nine rebounds, five assists) steered the Lakers to victory. They were helped by 46 combined points from Russell, Hachimura, and Austin Reaves, and all-around solid defense from everyone that wasn’t guarding Morant in the second half.
Morant’s final stat line was a scintillating 45 points (13-26 FG, 6-10 3PT), 13 assists, and nine rebounds. Unfortunately for him, nobody else on his team could make their shots, and the team finished with shooting splits of 37.6% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc. Jaren Jackson Jr. only had 13 points and five rebounds to go with four fouls and six turnovers.
Brooks was also awful in the game and was ejected in the third quarter for hitting LeBron in the groin whilst swiping for the ball. He finished with seven points on 3-13 shooting and 1-5 from three and was a major reason Memphis’ offense was rendered so useless in the first quarter. As solid as his defense is, games like Saturday’s have to bring his long-term role in Memphis into question.
The Lakers have a chance to essentially put a bow on the series with a win in Game Four. They have proven they can win on the road, where the Grizzlies were an NBA-best 35-6 in the regular season, and have looked like the superior team more times than not through three games, Morant or no Morant.
The scary part for the Grizzlies is that the Lakers weren’t that efficient on offense. They shot a standard 45.6% from the field and only made seven threes on 25% shooting, yet they totally dominated the visitors. The players around Morant will need to step up on offense, specifically from beyond the arc.
Game Three was the first time in the series that the Lakers got Jackson Jr. into foul trouble he is accustomed to being in and were able to dominate the interior. It would not be a surprise to see them continue to prioritize that and get to the free-throw line not just for the offensive benefits, but also to take the transition element out of the game and limit Morant’s explosiveness.
The Lakers will win Game Four if they continue to stay engaged. Ever since they made a flurry of moves at the trade deadline they have been the best team in the Western Conference (from a record perspective), but they also take nights off. That’s par for the course of having a 38-year-old leading the line but still a concern every night.
The Grizzlies will win if they punch the Lakers in the mouth and frustrate their stars (LeBron and Davis). Both have struggled with double-teams in the series, and the role players not named Hachimura are not doing a great job sinking their three-pointers.
The Lakers spread is the pick here. LA knows that it can go up 3-1 and effectively put the series to bed with a win and would be wise to do so at home instead of having to do it in a hostile environment. LeBron and Davis also seemed to figure out how to get inside the painted area and create problems and can use that as a blueprint moving forward.
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