Once again, it appeared Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis suffered another major injury. Once again, it appeared the Lakers lacked the supporting cast to relieve his burden.
Instead, the Lakers demonstrated how they have become a fundamentally different team. Davis brushed off the pain and still dominated. Davis’ teammates carried the torch and ran with it.
The Lakers finished with a 128-112 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday that have much greater implications than just taking a 1-0 first-round NBA playoff series lead. They stole Memphis’ homecourt. They stole Memphis’ swagger. And they stole Memphis’ ammunition they hoped they could have exploited against the Lakers.
They tried to play physical with Davis, but he stayed durable. They tried to force the Lakers’ supporting cast to make key plays, and they happily mastered the role.
Davis finished with 22 points on 10-for-17 shooting, 12 rebounds, seven blocks, three steals and three assists after leaving the game late in the first half with an injured his right shoulder. Rui Hachimura (29 points), Austin Reaves (23 points, four assists) and D’Angelo Russell (21 points, seven assists) all made timely baskets. And soon enough, the Grizzlies had much more to worry about than LeBron James (21 points, 11 rebounds).
Keys to Los Angeles Lakers’ postseason success
By channeling all of their focus on James, the Grizzlies ignored everyone else on the Lakers. Understandable, considering James’ dominance even during his 20th NBA season. No doubt, the Lakers’ success mostly depends on how healthy and consistent James can stay for the rest of the playoffs. But considering James’ value can vary amid scoring, playmaking and intangibles, the Lakers are well aware that there are more unpredictable factors that will influence their post-season success.
Davis has to remain durable and dominant. The Los Angeles Lakers need consistent depth to ensure the burden does not just fall on James and Davis. The Lakers rarely showed those two qualities at the beginning of the season. Davis missed 26 games, including 23 to treat a stressed right foot. Though the Lakers experienced more of Russell Westbrook’s risky play than benefitted from his actual production, it did not help the Lakers lacked enough help to mitigate Westbrook’s weaknesses.
The Los Angeles Lakers fundamentally changed their identity once they dealt Westbrook before the trade deadline. Not only did the Lakers enjoy an improved dynamic through addition-by-subtraction. In separate deals, the Lakers also addressed various positional needs with better playmaking (D’Angelo Russell), shooting (Malik Beasley), frontcourt depth (Jarred Vanderbilt, Mo Bamba) and wing help (Rui Hachimura). Reaves also blossomed with more playing time. Though the Lakers finished with the No. 7 seed, they still finished the second half of the season as one of the NBA’s strongest teams.
Still, progress does not always move in a linear fashion.
Anthony Davis’ injury scare
After Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. tangled up with Davis’ right arm while fighting for a rebound, it appeared Davis could miss the rest of the game or even the rest of the playoffs. Davis grabbed his right arm and hunched over. He then stood up and said, “I can’t move my arm.” Davis then went to the locker room with the Grizzlies holding a 58-56 lead with 1:15 left in the second quarter.
Once Davis left, it appeared the Lakers’ playoff fortunes would quickly disintegrate. Memphis ended the first half on a 7-3 run. Jackson made uncontested shots up close and from deep. Ja Morant made an open jumper with one second left. The Lakers looked overwhelmed.
The Los Angeles Lakers then returned to the court by making key halftime adjustments that had nothing to do with offensive play calls or defensive schemes.
After suffering a stinger in his right shoulder, Davis dominated as if nothing bothered him. He attacked the basket. He made shots in the post and from the elbows. He defended with ferocity. Davis played just as effectively in the second half (12 points, six rebounds, two blocks, one assist) following his injury as he did in the first before his ailment (10 points, six rebounds, five blocks, two assists).
Davis’ teammates also picked up the slack. Hachimura became a long-range sniper after experiencing inconsistency this season with his playing time and role. Russell had a key bounce-back game after only having two points on 1-for-9 shooting in the Lakers’ play-in win over Minnesota. Reaves showcased some fancy passes, fearless drives and timely shots as he has done for most of the season. Overall, the Lakers outscored the Grizzlies overwhelmingly in the third quarter (37-25) and fourth quarter (32-22).
These developments could have long-term implications While the Grizzlies hope Morant recovers from a right hand injury in time for Game 2 on Wednesday, the Lakers can benefit from the extended schedule with granting James some rest and giving Davis time to heal. With the Lakers’ role players elevating their games, however, they already ensured that James and Davis will need less recovery time.
It seemed unlikely Los Angeles Lakers fans could have imagined that scenario playing out following Davis’ injury scare. Davis vowed to show he can play and thrive through those circumstances. Davis’ teammates vowed to prove he can trust them to ease the burden on his pained shoulders.