LOS ANGELES — LeBron James vowed to be better for Game 6 of the Los Angeles Lakers first-round series on Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
He kept his word, and his teammates kept the pressure on the Grizzlies from the opening top, destroying the #2 Grizzlies 125-85 to win the series 4-2.
It took James 17 shots to make a five in Game 5. On Friday, he made seven of his first eight, underscoring a dominant first-half performance with a two-handed reverse dunk in transition.
LA led by 17 points at halftime and James had 16 points, up one from Game 5 overall. He finished the tournament with 22 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds while making history by winning the 40th playoff series of his career and tying Derek Fisher for the most all-time.
“He plays with a sense of urgency,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of the 20-year veteran before the game. “He knows there are only so many of them left [postseason runs] he will be able to participate. So he was definitely in the moment.”
The second half of Game 6 was just an extended celebration for the Crypto.com Arena crowd, with the Lakers leading by as much as 40. The celebrations were long in coming as the franchise picked up its first home win to wrap up a playoff series since 2012 when it defeated the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 in the first round.
Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell got into the act of redemption with James. After losing 4-11 in Memphis on Wednesday, he was 5-8 in the first quarter alone. Russell finished the game with a game-high 31 points in 12-for-17 shooting, setting a new career playoff high in scoring. He broke out of a playoff slump in a big way, having never shot 50% or better in a postseason game before.
And he did it with Kyrie Irving, James’ old Cleveland Cavaliers running mate, who was sitting on the sidelines directly across from the Lakers bench.
Everything seemed to be going in the direction of the Lakers on Friday. Their offense shot 53.8% from the field. Their defense held Memphis at 30.2%.
Austin Reaves played the ground game he was loved for in LA, posting 11 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. Jarred Vanderbilt helped out Grizzlies star Ja Morant in a 3-for-16 shooting night while going 3-for-8 on offense with 3 for nine points. Rui Hachimura was effective off the bench again, scoring six points in 3-on-5 shooting, including two dunks that rocked the arena.
And Anthony Davis – whose injury heartache epitomized the team’s disappointment over the past few seasons – received a cheery ‘AD! AD!” chant from the crowd after climbing off the court to save a loose ball late in the third quarter with the Lakers up by 30.
Davis – who finished with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks – raised both hands in the air and waved to fans for more.
Both teams drew their starters with more than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, with LA leading 103-71. Blowout wins like Friday’s were rare for the Lakers during the regular season, let alone in the most consequential matchup of the year.
The Lakers became the first No. 7s to pull off an opening-round upset since the San Antonio Spurs in 2010, and only the sixth team to do so. They are waiting for the winner of Game 7 between the Sacramento Kings and the Golden State Warriors on Sunday to find out their opponent in the second round.
After starting the season 2-10, the Lakers have won 14 of their last 18 games, spanning from the closing stages of the regular season to their play-in win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Grizzlies series.
The Lakers became only the second tournament play-in team since its inception in 2020 to advance to the second round, joining the Miami Heat, which defeated the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the week.
James and Davis improved to 5-0 in a playoff series in which they are both healthy.
After the Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks called James “old” after the Lakers lost their second game in Memphis, LA won three of the next four games.
James confronted Brooks on the court before Game 3 in LA. A source within earshot of the conversation told ESPN that James’s message to Brooks was essentially, “Are you ready for what’s coming up tonight?”
Brooks wasn’t ready yet. The Grizzlies weren’t ready yet.
And 38-year-old James’ postseason continues.