Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers Steal Game 1 From Grizzlies 128-112 Thanks to Dominant Performance by Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis returned from a right-shoulder injury in the second half and led the Lakers to a dominant 128-112 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series against the Memphis Grizzlies.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzlies

A collective gasp escaped the Lakers bench late in the second quarter as they stared in disbelief as Anthony Davis grabbed his right shoulder in pain.

"I can't move my arm," he explained as he hobbled towards a seat near the Lakers bench and then back to the locker room shortly thereafter.

Potentially losing their best player in a series he was expected to dominate had the hopes and hearts of Lakers Nation hinging on a string. Without Davis, the Lakers stood no chance in their first-round playoff series against the young, athletic, and physical Memphis Grizzlies. This was the kind of injury that could swing a series and perhaps the entire playoff landscape, and it was only Game 1!

Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzlies - Game One
Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers is injured during the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies during Game One of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at FedExForum on April 16, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

Thankfully for the Lakers, Davis returned in the second half and dominated the undersized Grizzlies, scoring 22 points, with 12 rebounds, and a game-high seven blocks to lead Los Angeles to a 128-112 victory in Game 1 on Sunday in Memphis.

"We didn't know what AD's status was," said Austin Reaves of the atmosphere in the Lakers' locker room at halftime with Davis' status in doubt. "We were talking about 'next man up mentality' in case something was bad wrong with him. Thank God nothing major is wrong with him."

The shorthanded Grizzlies are without starting center Steven Adams (right knee) and backup center Brandon Clarke (left Achilles) for the entirety of the first-round. That means Davis can dominate the offensive and defensive glass and feast at the rim. As Davis goes in the series, so do the Lakers.

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"He's our linebacker. He sees everything in front of him," said Lakers' head coach Darvin Ham of the importance of Davis. "Talking to the guys. Protecting the rim, just being a presence in the paint. His activity, his energy on that side of the ball….but the communication amongst all the guys was great. He set the tone. He was that guy. His biggest mark that needs to be made consistently throughout this series is on the defensive end….Defensively I thought he was unbelievable."

The Lakers big man, who was diagnosed with a stinger at halftime, was a game-high plus 27 when he was on the court and his performance was highlighted by a 21-point, 11-rebound performance from LeBron James and 29 crucial points off the bench from Rui Hachimura.

Hachimura was acquired from the Washington Wizards days before the NBA trade deadline, and his points off the bench were the most by a Lakers reserve since Byron Scott scored 24 in 1997 and the most by a Lakers reserve since Mychal Thompson had 29 off the bench in 1984.

"He was huge," said James of Hachimura's record-breaking performance. "He hit timely shots…He was just on time, and on target all night tonight and we needed that. Especially with how great their bench is."

Austin Reaves was also excellent in his first taste of the NBA Playoffs, scoring 23 points, including some clutch baskets and assists down the stretch as the Lakers closed the game on a 15-0 run to send the fans at the FedEx Forum home in heartbreak.

The Lakers entered the series as the underdogs, but looked anything but in Game 1.

The back-and-forth game featured 11 lead changes, six ties, and both teams taking leads of eight points or at several points throughout the 48-minute contest.

Jaren Jackson Jr., the frontrunner for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award this season, led the Grizzlies with a game-high 31 points in the loss. Desmond Bane chipped in 22.

Ja Morant finished with 18 points, but appeared to injury his right hand when he fell to the ground midway through the fourth quarter. Morant did not return to the game, and his availability for the remainder of the series is uncertain.

"It's in jeopardy," said Morant of his status for Game 2 on Wednesday. "It just feels like it's one thing after another."

The Grizzlies took an important step last season under fifth-year head coach Taylor Jenkins. Memphis finished with the second best record in the Western Conference, and won their first playoff series since 2015, when they took down the Minnesota Timberwolves in six last spring.

Despite injuries, suspensions, and off-the-court drama, the Grizzlies had an even better season this year, once again finishing with the second-best record in the Western Conference, and the best home record in the entire NBA at 35-6.

But to take the next step, the Grizzlies need to advance deeper into the NBA Playoffs. That starts with defeating the 17-time champion Los Angeles Lakers. A matchup that Memphis guard Dillon Brooks relished.

“I wouldn’t mind playing LeBron in a 7-game series,”  Brooks told reporters earlier in the week.  “The legacy is there. First time back in the playoffs; knock him out right away. It’ll test us good. They got good pieces, good players. That’ll be a good first-round matchup for us.”

The Grizzlies' speed, length, and physicality posed multiple problems for the Lakers in Game 1. Led by Davis, the Lakers defense was the best in the league post All-Star break, but their transition defense was among the bottom.

However, it was the Lakers that out-scored the Grizzlies 26-17 on fastbreak points in Game 1.

Memphis led 101-98 with 8:55 remaining in the game, but the Lakers went on a 10-0 run and never looked back. Reaves scored or assisted on 6 of the Lakers last eight baskets to close the game out.

For Reaves, his 23-point performance was a bit of a bounce back game after he struggled in the Lakers 108-102 OT victory over the Timberwolves in the Play-In Tournament on Tuesday.

Reaves, who hails from nearby Newark, Arkansas had dozens of friends and family in attendance for Game 1. He celebrated his nine straight points late in the fourth quarter by shouting "I am HIM!" at his teammates as he headed to the bench during a Memphis timeout.

"There's a lot of emotions," said Reaves. "You dream about being on stage like this among the best basketball players in the world. It's the playoffs and I got hot late."

The Lakers improved to 19-7 in playoff games that both LeBron James and Anthony Davis start in and will need both of them if they want to become the first seven-seed in NBA history to reach the NBA Finals.

"Obviously we have great chemistry and in the postseason every possession is important and you have to dial in," said James of his connection with Davis. "We've had pretty good success as a combo and obviously we want to continue to that, but it was our supporting cast that won us the game tonight. AD set the tone defensively posting 7 blocks, changed shots at the rim and took charges, but our supporting cast definitely brought us home."

Game 2 of the best of seven series tips off on Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30PM EST.

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