Los Angeles Lakers claimed an overtime win against the Memphis Grizzlies in game four on Monday to take a 3-1 lead in the first round NBA Playoffs series.
LeBron James was at his ‘clutch’ best when he took charge 6.7 seconds from the final hooter, dribbled past Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman, and thudded a shot off the glass to pull his team level with the Grizzlies at 104 each.
Anthony Davis, the other Lakers star, then blocked Ja Morant’s buzzer beater at the other end to force overtime.
It was all Davis and LeBron from thereon and the Lakers pulled away to a 117-111 victory.
With the home court advantage now turning in their favour, the Lakers have a foot in the conference semifinals. The odds of the side getting here appeared slim when it was languishing in 13th place at the All-Star break in February, as one of the worst offensive units in the league.
While its mainstays, LeBron and Davis, have led the side’s turnaround, the team’s supporting lineup, which was heavily refurbished in the trade window, has put in a solid performance, especially in the Playoffs.
The Lakers’ turnaround started with coach Darvin Ham getting Austin Reaves into the starting five towards the final stretch of the regular season. The move saw the Lakers pip Phoenix Suns in the regular season.
Reaves has become a regular shooting guard since. In the Lakers’ closing stretch of the regular season, where it went on an 8-2 run, Reaves scored 15 or more on seven occasions. In the Playoffs, he has scored 17.8 per game with an impressive shooting efficiency of 49.1%.
The matchup against the Grizzlies has also seen Rui Hachimura showcase his potential. Hachimura, who came on a trade from Washington Wizards in February, was the game-changer in the opening game, scoring 29 points. His efficiency from beyond the arc was a spectacular 83.3% from six attempted threes. In the next two games, Hachimura showed his exploits were no fluke when he shot four-of-six and two-of-two from the three-point range.
After four games, though, Hachimura’s scoring average has dipped marginally, but his 3-point efficiency is still a relatively high 62.5%.
Hachimura and Reaves have been the catalyst in the Lakers’ percentage of points scored from three-pointers going up from 30.1% in regular season to 37.8% in post season.
The duo, with contributions from Jarred Vanderbilt, another starter in the side shooting at 58%, has helped Lakers’ efficiency from the ‘20-24 feet’ range rise from 36% to nearly 41%. The three-point line is 22 feet from the basket.
Complementing the shooting prowess are ball-handlers Dennis Schroder and D’Angelo Russell. The duo has shot around 40% in the four games. Russell shone in the fourth game when he hit three back-to-back threes to pull the Lakers from 90-97 down to a two-point lead.
Given LeBron and Davis’ inclination to attack the rim, oppositions opted for crowding the paint and the restricted area. The Lakers needed players who could attack from the arc and mid-range, something it struggled to do for a greater part of the regular season.
The Playoffs, however, limited as the sample size is, have shown they might just have solved the problem.
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