Even though it may seem impossible, LeBron James can yet do great things.
James had never recorded 20 rebounds in a game in his 20-year NBA career, despite leading three different teams to championships and being the league’s all-time leading scorer. No, not during the regular season. Not in the playoffs, no.
Until Monday, that is. Until his Los Angeles Lakers required his strength, expertise, and insight, he was able to sit on the sidelines. Up until they were on the verge of elimination from the first round of the playoffs, they didn’t need James’ help against a youthful, brazen opponent like the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Lakers, who began the season 2-10 and appeared lost coming into the trade deadline, now lead the Grizzlies, who were consistently one of the top teams in the Western Conference, 3-1 thanks to the 117-111 overtime win James helped deliver on Monday night.
James’s ability to rally from tiredness in the waning minutes of Game 4 was a huge factor in the Lakers’ dominating position in the series. He roared into the stands as he thumped his chest and converted a driving layup through contact with 29.1 seconds remaining in overtime.
James scored 22 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, making him the first Laker to do it in a playoff game since Shaquille O’Neal in 2004. At age 38, he broke Wilt Chamberlain’s playoff record of 20 points and 20 rebounds established in 1973 to become the oldest player in NBA history to accomplish the feat.
It has been obvious from the beginning of this series that the Lakers are no ordinary seventh seed, and James’ presence is a big reason why. Once Anthony Davis and James were available, even if they weren’t at full health, their record didn’t represent who they were. After undergoing major squad changes at the trade deadline, they saw considerable gains as well.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, were injured going into the playoffs. Their primary centre, Steven Adams, has been sidelined with a knee injury, and they have also lost Brandon Clarke, a big man who provided size, to injury.
Memphis’ home team was swept in Game 1. However, being known for their bravado, they were not deterred by the early loss. Dillon Brooks, a member of the Grizzlies, aggressively pursued James both on and off the court.
One simple strategy for stealing James’s thunder is to create a rivalry with him. James was well aware of this, yet he had zero interest.
James avoided answering any of the inquiries concerning Brooks’s remarks that were directed to him after practise last week. He cut his press conference short before he could have said anything to inflame the situation. Playwriting, he added, allowed him to express himself more freely.
However, James went to talk to Brooks in the minutes before Game 3. Despite the lack of voice, the incident was captured on camera and shared widely online.
After one quarter, the Lakers were up 35-9, sending their supporters into a frenzy and making Memphis seem like an amateur. Even with 45 points from Ja Morant, the Grizzlies couldn’t overcome their slow start. In the third quarter, Brooks was dismissed for a flagrant foul assessed after he punched James in the groyne, thereby ending any potential fight between them.
The Lakers’ 15-point advantage in the second quarter shrank to just two points at halftime after a late 14-1 rally by Memphis. As time expired in the third quarter, Morant dribbled through traffic before finishing with a slam, giving Memphis a two-point lead.
But the Lakers received huge assists from a number of guys down the stretch to win. After a relatively quiet first three quarters, Davis stepped up with key defensive plays in the fourth. D’Angelo Russell helped the Lakers come back from a 7-point hole in the fourth quarter thanks to his three 3-pointers in a minute’s time.
The playoffs are a tough time to get some shuteye. The Lakers and the Grizzlies, who had two days off between each of their first three games, are now playing every other day with ever-increasing stakes, while other teams have a far tougher schedule. On Wednesday in Memphis, the Lakers will have Game 5 to try to close up the series.