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The Los Angeles Lakers head back to their home court for a Game 6 against the Memphis Grizzlies that they need to win if they want to avoid a Game Seven on the road in the toughest building to play in.
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The Lakers did not come out flat as they have in games past but allowed the Grizzlies to take an early lead and never seemed like they were ready to mount a comeback. Anthony Davis was the only LA player that had his offense going, and the team was once again horrible from three-point territory.
On the other side, the Grizzlies, who were 35-6 at home during the regular season, remedied their Game One mistake and defended their home court and forced a Game Six in Los Angeles. Ja Morant and Desmond Bane both notched double-doubles and Memphis’ lockdown defense rose and shone once again.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham made a few coaching errors related to his substitution pattern and defensive scheme when the game was on the verge of spiraling out of control. He is in a tough position as a rookie head coach and with a 38-year-old best player, but these moments are a stark reminder that only five rookie head coaches have ever made runs to the NBA Finals.
Davis was the top performer for the Lakers with 31 points, 19 rebounds, and two blocks. LeBron James had 15 points (5-17 FG, 1-9 3PT), 10 assists, five rebounds, and five turnovers and simply needs to be better for the purple and gold to win games. The vaunted Lakers bench also only managed 18 points and had many of the worst plus/minus scores of the game.
On the other side, Desmond Bane was once again the standout with 33 points (12-21 FG), 10 rebounds, and five assists. His backcourt mate, Morant, was right there with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Memphis finished the game with a better field goal, three-point, and free-throw percentages than LA and also committed fewer turnovers.
This series has been back and forth. The Lakers’ average margin of victory is 10.7, while the Grizzlies, despite trailing 3-2, have an average margin of victory of 13.5 points. LA has really struggled to find its three-point shot in this series (30.1%, tied for second-worst in the playoffs) and is going to have to step up from long range at some point or face an early exit.
No play-in team had ever won a playoff series since it was implemented a few years ago until the Miami Heat beat the Milwaukee Bucks in five games Wednesday night. The Lakers are looking to become the second team to do that and the first seven seed to win their opening playoff series since the San Antonio Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks in 2010.
LA has to give thought to adding Lonnie Walker IV back into the rotation, given its continued struggles to score the ball. Walker does not show interest in the defensive side of the game and is not much of a help if his shot isn’t falling, but he did 11.7 points and shot 36.5% from three in the regular season. He’s also capable of creating his own shot in a crowded half-court.
The Lakers won the two games in this series in their building, one in a game in which Morant had a 45-point near-triple double, and the other in overtime. They should be expecting a flurry of haymakers from Memphis but have the defensive integrity to hold up, so long as they come out with interest and energy.
The Lakers have proven that they are better than Memphis, yet their inefficiency in shooting the ball and wandering desire have let their opponent push the series to six games. The first quarter is often indicative of how the rest of the game will go, especially with Davis’ tendency to withdraw himself from the offense and LeBron’s horrible shooting performance in the series.
The Grizzlies have done a fantastic job upholding their defensive intensity in the postseason and are playing the Lakers as physically as anyone can. That has completely taken LA’s offense out of its rhythm and given them opportunities to win games. They don’t have to be perfect on offense to win, they just need to hit a few timely threes and put together spurts of points.
This feels like it will be one of the closest games of the series. The Lakers’ role players were terrible in Game Five, but role players are traditionally more comfortable in their home arena, giving them reason for optimism in Game Five. Jaren Jackson Jr. has also been a relative nonfactor in the past couple of games, which has put all of the onus on Morant and Bane.
The Lakers really need to win this game to avoid possible short-term peril, but also long-term by playing a seventh game and getting less rest time heading into the next round (if they win). Take the Lakers to come out with a fiery spirit and win and cover a hard-fought battle.
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