For a couple of years now, the Memphis Grizzlies have shown they can win without their star player (27-8 over the past two seasons).
On Wednesday night that meant trusting their depth, using their elite defense to smother key Lakers players, plus playing fast and attacking the Lakers (even if the pace of this game was slower than the series opener). The Grizzlies went at them with energy and a hint of desperation. Tyus Jones reminded everyone why he might be the best backup point guard in the NBA, and Memphis got an unexpected boost from Xavier Tillman Sr. and his career-high 22 points plus he pulled down 13 rebounds. It was next man up personified.
The story is different for the Lakers. If Anthony Davis isn’t playing at an elite level — say, shooting 4-of-14 as he did Wednesday night — the Lakers don’t have a good fallback. He is their everything this postseason. This stat from The Athletic’s Jovan Buha sums things up:
Through two games:
Lakers with Davis on the court (75 minutes): +23
Lakers with Davis off the court (21 minutes): -17
Wednesday night Memphis locked the Lakers down, which allowed them to push the pace in the first half, built a lead and hold it through the second half to win 103-93 and even the series 1-1.
Game 3 is Saturday in Los Angeles. Ja Morant‘s status for that game is unknown, he is recovering from a “sore right hand” following a nasty fall in Game 1.
Of course, what everyone will be talking about out of this game is Dillon Brooks chirping at LeBron then calling him “old.”
Classic Dillon Brooks on his confrontation with LeBron James: “I don’t care. He’s old. … I poke bears. I don’t respect someone until he gives me 40.”
And Brooks had plenty more to say. pic.twitter.com/uWLONrubPZ
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 20, 2023
Go ahead and say that’s not smart — plenty of players have come to regret it over the years — but it’s who Brooks is. He wants this role and he barks at everyone, including Stephen Curry (who has dropped 40 on him). It’s also who the Grizzlies are.
LeBron doesn’t play old, but he does play at a deliberate pace (although he is still a force when he does get in transition). The Grizzlies tried to exploit the older legs of LeBron and his teammates by attacking early in the clock off misses, plus getting some transition buckets, and it was key to them getting up by 20 at one point. That and the fact Memphis has an elite defense and brought it in Game 2.
Even without the otherworldly athleticism of Morant, Memphis is younger and bouncier than the Lakers. When the Lakers were able to slow the game down in the second half they climbed back and got close, but they could never fully close the gap.
LeBron led the Lakers with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Rui Hachimora added 20, but D'Angelo Russell struggled with the Grizzlies’ pressure and shot 2-of-11.
Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 18 points for the Grizzlies, while Desmond Bane added 17.