Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers Win Game 6 in a Rout 125-85, Eliminate Higher-Seeded Grizzlies

The Lakers became just the sixth No. 7 seed in history to advance to the second-round of the NBA Playoffs, winning Game 6 in a rout, 125-85, to eliminate the Grizzlies.

2023 NBA Playoffs Game 6 - Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers

When the Los Angeles Lakers are firing on all cylinders, they make the best teams in the NBA look as disoriented as a sheep thats lost its flock. That means the defense is tied together on a string: denying everything near the rim and closing out on the perimeter with intensity and focus.

On offense, the ball is constantly in motion, every player in harmony with one another as their decision-making comes quicker than their trigger fingers. So with the Lakers not wanting to head back to Memphis for a Game 7, they were at their best on Friday night.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis, D'Angelo Russell and company ascended to that level in Game 6, picking apart the Grizzlies for a 125-85 blowout win, becoming just the sixth No. 7 seed in NBA history to upset a No. 2 seed in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

With Jack Nicholson back in his longtime courtside seat after a two-year hiatus, the Lakers elevated their level of play, treating Game 6 like a do-or-die elimination game. Head Coach Darvin Ham also understood the gravity of the occasion: limiting his rotation to just eight players, keeping the struggling Malik Beasley and Troy Brown Jr. on the bench for most of this one.

"It was definitely a Game 7 mentality for us," said James who hugged Nicholson before the game. "We understood we had an opportunity to play in front of our fans and we wanted to try and end it tonight. From the start of the game we were just locked in our game plan and it lasted until the end of the game."

By eliminating the Grizzlies and advancing to the Western Conference semifinals—where they will play the winner of the Kings-Warriors Game 7 on Sunday—the Lakers have completed one of the more remarkable turnarounds in a season in recent memory.

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The Lakers started the season a pathetic 2-10, their first dozen games were so bad that stats and analytics gave them a 0.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. By the time the All-Star break rolled around on February 19th, they were five games below .500 and sitting alone in 13th place in the Western Conference.

"We started 0-and-5 and then 2-and-10, everything we went through all the ups and downs, I'm just thankful," said Lakers' head coach Darvin Ham after the win. "I just knew if we stayed at it we'd turn it around...the different moves we made at the deadline to fortify our team and balance us out was huge."

Thanks to a slew of deadline day trades, the Lakers went 18-7 over their final 25 games and finished the regular season with a record of 43-39, good for seventh place in the Western Conference. After defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Play-In Tournament, they were heavy underdogs against the mighty Memphis Grizzlies, who had the best home record in the NBA this season.

But the Lakers stole Game 1 at FedEx Forum and held serve at home throughout the remainder of the series. After a blowout loss in Game 5, they gathered themselves at home and burst out of the gates with a balanced attack in Game 6.

Russell scored 10 first quarter points, James and Davis combined for 13, and the Lakers raced out to a 31-20 lead. Within four minutes into the second quarter the lead ballooned to 20, and finished at 17 by halftime.

"Every game, the team that got off to a great start had a better chance of winning," said Russell of the importance of the Lakers' hot start to the game. "Tonight we wanted to make sure we got out to a good start and we did that."

Despite a gallant effort by the Grizzlies, the Lakers just kept their foot on the gas, pulling ahead by more and more as the game went along.

James, who shot 5-for-17 with five turnovers in Game 5, bounced back in Game 6, finishing with 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists.

James vowed to be better back home in Los Angeles after his abysmal performance on Wednesday, and arrived at the arena five hours before the game to get up shots.

"After Game 5, the whole thing in my mind was how much rest I could get," said James of his recovery after Game 5. "I slept as much as I could, rested as much as I could, and stayed off of my feet as much as possible coming into tonight. I felt pretty good when I woke up this morning. I felt excellent. That's the reason I was here so early."

But as James has been saying the whole series, the Lakers needed their supporting cast in order to dispatch of the higher-seeded Grizzlies.

Davis dominated on defense, finishing with 16 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks. Out-performing the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award winner Jaren Jackson Jr. all series long.

"I know it starts with me dominating that side of the ball," said Davis of the Lakers' defense in Game 6. "I wanted to make it tough at the rim for them to score. I just wanted to leave everything out on the floor tonight to secure the victory."

Russell poured in his best performance of the series, and recorded his playoff career-high with 31 points, including five three-pointers.

"To finally make shots was a good feeling, but the win was better to be honest," said Russell of his performance.

Early in the second half, after the Grizzlies cut the lead to 14, the Lakers connected on three consecutive three-pointers to push the lead to 23, their largest of the night at the time. But it was Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt that delivered the daggers with a handful of threes that put the Lakers up by a whopping 40 points.

Austin Reaves chipped in 11 points and dished out eight assists, all the while receiving "M-V-P!" chants by the Lakers crowd, and a round of applause by Nicholson.

"We didn't want to go back to Memphis," said Reaves. "We wanted to end it here tonight on our home court. We were super locked in. There was a sense of urgency on the defensive side of the ball."

The Lakers 2022-23 season has felt like Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…"

All these months after Russell Westbrook was in the starting lineup on Opening Night, the Lakers look destined for another disappointing season that would end without a single postseason game played. That was the worst of times.

But credit Lakers' vice-president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka. His midseason moves changed the course of the season like a ship charting a new path in the dead of night.

The Lakers not only salvaged their season and played a postseason game, they are a perfect 4-0 at home in the playoffs and advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals where they will meet a familiar divisional foe.

"We stayed together," said Reaves about the rollercoaster ride of a season. "We hold each other accountable...and play the right way. Everybody is connected on the court and off the court and we enjoy being around each other."

Meanwhile, Memphis will have to face another disappointing offseason in which they were eliminated by a lower seed in the playoffs.

After drafting Ja Morant in 2019, the Grizzlies made the playoffs for the first time in three seasons in 2021. They won their first playoff series in seven years in 2022, but as the No. 2 seed, they were expected to at least advance to the Western Conference Finals.

2023 was supposed to be the year the Grizzlies made that leap and took another step forward in their maturation. They once again secured the No. 2 overall seed in the Western Conference, and finished the season with the best home record in the NBA.

But another first-round exit, especially after Dillon Brooks called LeBron James "old" and said he didn't "respect" him, and Desmond Bane guaranteed that the Grizzlies would win Game 6 and return to FedEx Forum for Game 7, is simply a step backwards for this young team.

"We are going to learn from this and get better. They are absolutely going to make us better," said Grizzles head coach Taylor Jenkins about the series loss to the Lakers. "Obviously, it was a very disappointing ending. We had plenty of chances and we just didn't get the job done. We didn't play our best basketball at all in these six games."

Morant finished with just 10 points on 3-of-16 shooting. Bane led the Grizzlies with 15.

"I was out there battling, but I wasn't percent," said Morant, who pointed to health as a reason why the Grizzlies lost the series. "Health is important. We played with what we got, so I'm not going to use that as an excuse right now. Even with the guys we had, we have to be better."

For the Lakers, there's no looking ahead to the future. Their time is now, and the opportunity is ahead of them. In a wide-open West (and East for that matter), the Lakers have as good of a chance at winning their record-breaking 18th title as anybody left in the field.

After their rollercoaster ride of a season, they'll continue to ride this wave as far as it takes them, and try and become just the second team in NBA history to advance to the Western Conference Finals as a seven-seed.

In the meantime, the Lakers will have plenty of time to rest up and heal any nagging injuries before the start of the second round. Game 1 is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, giving the Lakers at least three days off between games.

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