Old engines take longer to warm up.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ veterans who carry the most responsibility and the heaviest burdens, weren’t good enough for the first 48 minutes.
Well, the first 47 minutes and 59.2 seconds.
With 0.8 left in regulation, James hit a high-arching bank shot to force overtime, and with extra minutes to make the previous four quarters right, James and Davis took over, scoring the Lakers’ first nine points in a 117-111 overtime victory over the Grizzlies.
James punctuated things with a driving score to seal it in overtime, howling and flexing at the crowd with the win about to be in his grasp.
The Lakers now travel to Memphis for Game 5 on Wednesday night, where they’ll have a chance to end the series with a victory.
James finished with 22 points and 20 rebounds, a career high. It’s the first postseason 20/20 game by a Laker since Shaquille O’Neal did it in the 2004 NBA Finals.
Monday, a moment when the Lakers first-round series could swing in one direction or the other, had to mostly be played in staccato. There were too many fouls, too many whistles, too many missed shots and too many mistakes to provide the game with meaningful flow.
That meant the Lakers and the Grizzlies had to win moments, basketball at its most granular, each box out, each dribble, each decision vital to grabbing the minimal amounts of momentum that were available down the stretch.
D’Angelo Russell provided one of those stretches, hitting three three-point shots in short order in the fourth to energize the nervous crowd. Austin Reaves had it at moments, as did Jarred Vanderbilt, Dennis Schroder and Troy Brown Jr.
Reaves even led the Lakers with 23 points as Davis could only scratch together 12.
But when the Lakers needed it, with a chance to take the lead in the final seconds with a 3-1 lead on the line, James and Davis couldn’t find the big play.
James did find a cutting Rui Hachimura, one of the stars of the first three games, on a cut with 10.8 seconds left, but Jaren Jackson Jr. quickly erased the dunk at the rim, with the Grizzlies scoring in transition.
After Memphis scored, the Lakers had one last shot.
Finally, with 0.8 left, James arrived.
Desmond Bane led Memphis with 36, but the Lakers held All-Stars Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. to 33 combined points on 13-for-37 shooting.
For most of the regular season and especially down the stretch, the Lakers made up for so many of their offensive deficiencies by getting to the free-throw line, where they led the league in attempts by a David Roddy-wide margin.
The Lakers attempted 26.6 free throws per game on average, and their 20.6 makes were second only to Philadelphia.
For the first time this series, the Lakers eclipsed that 26.6 mark in attempts, getting their 27 times in Game 3.
“I just think we just have to keep playing downhill. We can’t control whether or not the referees blow the whistle,” Darvin Ham said pregame. “We just have to keep playing with physicality on the offensive end. Again, like I said, setting good screens, not settling, not over-probing, because the more you hold the ball and take extra dribbles, the tougher the defense that we’re facing and the tougher they get.
“Being quick, getting downhill, just relentlessly attacking the glass, attacking the paint, attacking the rim, all of that.”
The Lakers though weren’t able to muster the right pace and the whistles didn’t come nearly as much as the Lakers wanted, players routinely holding their faces or gesturing the refs for a call while action continued on the other end of the court.
The start for Davis mirrored Game 2, when he was almost entirely ineffective on the offensive end with the Lakers aggressively trying to get him the ball from the tip.
“Obviously, I can be better,” he said after the Lakers’ loss. “…Can’t have a night like I had tonight and expect us to win.”
After starring in Game 3, Davis regressed with the Grizzlies holding him without a field goal until the second half thanks to a combination of intense defensive attention and a rim that seemed to get smaller with each Davis miss.
Compounding problems, Davis went to the floor hard after missing at full speed in transition, landing on his right side in the second quarter. He grabbed at his right hip for the remainder of the half. Luckily for the Lakers, they didn’t need Davis, James or D’Angelo Russell to do a lot of the offensive work early — their role players were ready to fill in the gaps before Davis made big plays late.
The Lakers opened by missing their first five shots before Vanderbilt tipped the ball in on an offensive rebound. He’d go on to score the team’s first seven points and make a pair of threes in his opening shift to keep the Lakers from lagging.
Then, Reaves and Brown Jr. lifted the offense, with James getting into the flow and the Lakers building a 15-point first-half lead.
But Memphis, like it did in Game 3, didn’t wilt.
In the final four-plus minutes of the first half, the Grizzlies pressured the Lakers by turning up their defensive pressure.
The Lakers missed their last seven shots of the quarter as the Grizzlies closed all the way to within two on Bane’s three just before the end of the half.
The bucket got Bane into his best rhythm of the series, something that continued into the second quarter as the Grizzlies built a six-point lead.
The Lakers fought back to tie the score on Rui Hachimura’s corner three, but Morant beat the buzzer with a one-handed slam over Hachimura to keep Memphis in front, setting the stage for James and the Lakers to grab control.