LOS ANGELES — LeBron James showed up Friday night ready to end this series.
The Memphis Grizzlies barely showed up.
The result was a 40-point blowout win for the Lakers — 125-85 was the final — where the entire fourth quarter was garbage time. This was the best of all possible outcomes for the Lakers: They won in a game where LeBron and Anthony Davis could watch the fourth quarter from the bench, then they will be home on their couches Sunday watching Kings/Warriors Game 7 while getting a couple more days rest (that series will start Tuesday, with the Lakers on the road).
Here are three takeaways from the Lakers’ Game 6 win ending this first-round series.
1) Another master class from LeBron James and… D'Angelo Russell?
What happened Friday night is what keeps coaches up at night going into a series against the Lakers — LeBron James still has games like this. LeBron didn’t score the most points (22) and he wasn’t the defensive anchor, but he played with a determination from the opening tip that set the tone, and he attacked the rim and got the ball inside.
KING GOES REVERSE 🔥
LeBron and the Lakers are rolling in Game 6 on ESPN! pic.twitter.com/p40mVVz4ak
— NBA (@NBA) April 29, 2023
“I’ve been around some top-tier, elite, top-five in the NBA talent, but Bron man, I’ve never seen anything like it. For him to sustain that all these years…” coach Darvin Ham said, shaking his head.
The Lakers used their size against the shorthanded and overmatched front line of the Grizzlies and scored 52 points in the paint. It was an advantage the Lakers didn’t exploit often enough this series — the Lakers settled for jumpers in losing Game 5 — but LeBron set the tone and the table in Game 6.
With the Lakers attacking the paint and working inside out, players on the perimeter were getting better looks, and D’Angelo Russell took full advantage, scoring a game-high 31 on 12-of-17 shooting with five 3-pointers.
ICE IN HIS VEINS 🧊
D’Angelo Russell comes up huge to lead the Lakers to Round 2!
31 PTS | 5-9 3PM pic.twitter.com/fEuOxjjKaN
— NBA (@NBA) April 29, 2023
This is why Laker GM Rob Pelinka brought in Russell, he needed the kind of outside shooting Los Angeles lacked early in the season (which led to a clogged lane and choked off the Lakers’ inside game). Russell wasn’t the only Laker thriving — Austin Reaves thought it was Showtime — but Russell was the epitome of a role player stepping up when the team needed it.
HOW, AUSTIN REAVES? 🤯
Lakers firing on all cylinders in Q3 on ESPN. pic.twitter.com/B3NepJHxtW
— NBA (@NBA) April 29, 2023
2) Davis leads a Lakers defense that ended this series
If he had played in more than 56 games, Anthony Davis would have been in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation this season. As it was, in Game 6 he outplayed the guy who did win it.
Anthony Davis’ play early dominating inside took the Grizzlies out of their game. Memphis shot 29.2% in the first quarter, which included going 4-of-15 in paint. It didn’t get much better in the second quarter and the Grizzlies were 8-of-29 in the paint for the first half.
The Lakers had Davis or LeBron on Dillon Brooks a lot early, which allowed them to help off him and dare Brooks to beat them (he had 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting). It wasn’t just that duo, guys such as Dennis Schroder were locked in defensively as well.
Just watch how Schroder defended Bane from the second the Grizzlies got possession. It’s the reason they got the steal and a bucket pic.twitter.com/vnmMauETlT
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 29, 2023
“That side of the ball is gonna get you places,” Ham said. “If you consistent, you play at that level on that side of the ball it’s gonna get you places and get you to the destination that’s at the end of your journey.”
3) Grizzlies are good, growth and roster tweaks can make them great
In the wake of this series loss, there will be an urge for Grizzlies fans to say, “If we just had Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke this would have been different.”
It would have been closer, and the Grizzlies shouldn’t overreact to this loss. However, the flaws exposed by the cauldron of the playoffs went beyond just missing two big men. This team needed leadership and poise on top of more shooting.
“I’ve just got to be better as a decision-maker. Off-court issues affected us a lot,” Ja Morant said.
Memphis is a potential contender, but pressure should mount on the Grizzlies’ front office to round out the roster with the right veterans around their young stars. They need to bring in guys like Kyle Anderson or De'Anthony Melton — two players they let move on or traded last summer. (Both largely for financial reasons — ownership is going to have to step up and pay if Memphis is going to contend.)
Memphis lacks shooting, and with Luke Kennard out for Game 6 due to a shoulder stinger (suffered in Game 5) things were worse. The Lakers didn’t respect the Grizzlies’ shooting, which allowed them to collapse and take away paint with their size. Memphis couldn’t make them pay the price. The Grizzlies need to go out and find shooters, particularly wing shooters.
If one of them takes the roster spot of Dillon Brooks, that would not be the end of the world.
The word maturity was thrown around a lot this series, even by Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins. The Grizzlies’ young stars are maturing, but what the roster lacks is veterans with poise. Guys who can function under pressure and the brightest of spotlights. The Lakers were overflowing with those kinds of role players this series, which exposed the hole in the Grizzlies’ roster.
Tweak the Grizzlies’ roster by bringing in floor spacers, then add Adams and Clarke back, and you have a team that can do more than overwhelm in the regular season. This could be a team that wins big in the postseason, but it will take some smart front office moves.