LOS ANGELES – Going in, the Memphis Grizzlies knew Game 3 of the Western Conference Playoffs against the Lakers was pivotal to their chances of regaining homecourt advantage. They won the second and fourth quarters by 10 points and lost the second by four points.
The first quarter, however, was bad on a historic level. In the history of NBA playoff basketball, no team has ever trailed by more – 26 points – when the first-quarter buzzer sounded. It was too deep a hole to climb out of in a game that ended 111-101.
“It was pretty bad. You can’t go down 26 points. We missed a ton of shots,” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins.”
The No. 7 seed Lakers now take a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of the best-of-seven series that saw them wrest homecourt advantage away from the No. 2 seed Grizzlies in the first game at FedExForum.
With the Lakers drawing their first sold-out crowd for a playoff game since 2013, the Lakers started on fire, shooting 51 percent in the first quarter. The Grizzlies’ response was ice-cold shooting, 12 percent. Outscored 35-9 in the first, Memphis shot 25 times and only connected on three of them.
“They came out and played great. We didn’t play great in that first quarter,” said Jenkins. “You can’t dig yourself that big of a hole. I love the fight our guys showed in quarters 2, 3 and 4.”
The status of Ja Morant and his injured right hand was answered about an hour before tip-off. Injured late in game one, the two-time All-Star missed game two. His game-three stat line – 45 points, 13 assists, 9 rebounds – spoke to his resolve to play.
He was asked if Memphis’ slow start was a missed opportunity.
“One hundred percent,” said Morant, who recorded his first 40-point game since scoring 49 in the second game of the regular season. “I think we won the rest of the game by double digits in the last three quarters.
“We got some open-look shots that just did not fall. That allowed them to get out in transition. They started scoring a lot of points. We can’t let that happen. We have to play like we did in those last three quarters.”
Desmond Bane, who started in the backcourt with Morant, finished with 18 points while saddled early with foul trouble.
“It is basketball. We were getting good looks,” said Bane of the first quarter. “We had some turnovers, but you have to trust it (the process). You just trust it and put the work in. Once we were able to get some stops, things opened up for us.”
As for the challenge of playing physically without picking up fouls, Bane said, “I have been struggling all series with fouls. I have to be better with presence and getting to the right spots sooner so I don’t have to gamble and (be) out of position.”
Bane received a technical foul late in the fourth quarter, with Bane explaining that he and the Lakers’ Austin Reaves were exchanging words when D-Lo (D’Angelo Russell) started chirping and I said something back to him and I got caught.”
The most talked about narrative entering the game involved reactions to what many considered disrespectful remarks by Memphis’ Dillion Brooks regarding LeBron James after the Grizzlies’ Game 3 win. Fans of the Lakers came ready to boo, which they did every time he missed a shot in warmups.
In the first 13 seconds of the second half, Brooks (7 points on 3 of 13 shooting) was assessed for a flagrant 2 technical foul and ejected from the game. A review determined that Brooks fouled James with an excessive move to the groin area. Later, the Grizzlies learned Brooks would not be suspended for Game 4.
Rookie David Roddy stepped in for Brooks and took on the task of guarding James (25 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists).
“I could have done better on both ends of the floor, too many mental mistakes,” said Roddy. “We will go back to the drawing board and focus on Monday.”
Roddy’s late-game altercation with the Lakers’ Rui Hachimura (16 points) resulted in a technical foul for Hachimura. “I did not allow him to shoot an extra shot. He did not like that, which is fair. I wouldn’t have liked it either. I did not think too much of it.”
Game 4 in L.A. is set for 9 p.m. CDT and can be seen on TNT