Dave McMenaminESPN staff writer4 minutes to read
Los Angeles — LeBron James vowed to be better in Game 6 Friday of the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
He kept his word, and his teammates continued to pressure the Grizzlies from the opening end, destroying the #2 seeded Grizzlies 125-85 to win the series 4-2.
James needed 17 shots to make five in game five. And on Friday, he hit seven of his first eight shots, punctuating a dominant first-half performance with a two-handed reverse kick on transition.
Los Angeles led by 17 points at the half and James had 16 points, one more than his score in Game 5. He finished with 22 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds and made history in the process, winning the 40th game of his career series and tying Derek Fisher for most all-time.
“He plays with a sense of urgency,” Lakers coach Darvin Hamm said of the 20-year veteran before the game. “He knows there are only so many of those [postseason runs] will be able to participate in it. So he’s definitely in for the time being.”
The second half of Game 6 was just an extended celebration for the Crypto.com Arena crowd, as the Lakers led by as much as 40. The cheers were coming, as the franchise completed its first home win to cap off a playoff series since 2012, when it beat the Denver Nuggets in the game 7 in the first round.
It was D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers who was involved in the redemption process with James. After going 4-for-11 in Wednesday’s loss at Memphis, he was 5-for-8 in the first quarter alone. Russell finished with a career-high 31 points on 12-for-17 shooting, setting a playoff scoring high. He’s out of the playoff slack in a big way, having never shot 50% or better in a postseason game before.
And he did it with Kyrie Irving, James’ old teammate on the Cleveland Cavaliers, sitting directly across from the Lakers bench.
Everything seemed to go the way for the Lakers on Friday. Their offense shot 53.8% from the field. Their defense made Memphis 30.2%.
Playing the floor game he became a darling in Los Angeles, Austin Reeves put up 11 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds. Jared Vanderbilt helped upset Grizzlies’ star Ja Morant on a shooting night 3-for-16 while going 3-for-8 for nine points on offense. Rui Hachimura was effective off the bench again, scoring six points on 3-for-5 shooting, including two dunks that were swinging in the arena.
And Anthony Davis—whose injury epitomized the team’s disappointment in the past several seasons—received an “AD! AD!” Cheers from the crowd after scrambling off the field for the save late in the third quarter with the Lakers leading by 30.
Davis—who finished with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks—raised his hands in the air and begged for more from the fans.
Both teams got starts with over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, with Los Angeles leading 103-71. Rarely have victories as strong as Friday’s for the Lakers occurred during the regular season, let alone in more important matchups this year.
The Lakers became the first No. 7 seed to pull off an Opening Round upset since the San Antonio Spurs in 2010 and only the sixth team ever to achieve the feat. They await the winner of Game 7 between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors on Sunday to find out their opponent in the second round.
After starting the season 2-10, the Lakers won 14 of their last 18 games spanning the closing stretch of the regular season to their victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves to advance to the Grizzlies’ series.
The Lakers became just the second championship-playing team since it was introduced in 2020 to advance to the second round, joining the Miami Heat, who defeated the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the week.
James and Davis improved to 5-0 in the playoff series as they are both healthy.
After the Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks called James “old” after the Lakers lost Game 2 in Memphis, Los Angeles won three of the next four games.
James confronted Brooks on the court before game three in Los Angeles. A source close to the conversation told ESPN James that James’ message to Brooks was, in essence, “Are you ready for what’s coming for you tonight?”
Brooks wasn’t ready. The Grizzlies weren’t ready.
And the 38-year-old James postseason continues.
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