LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James made sure the Lakers had the appropriate urgency for a closeout playoff game. Their raucous fans constantly urged them to end an infuriating decade without a postseason celebration on the Lakers’ home court.
When that much passion coincided with a spectacular defensive performance by Anthony Davis, the Memphis Grizzlies didn’t stand a chance.
Davis had 16 points and 14 rebounds while blocking five shots and dominating the paint, D’Angelo Russell scored a career playoff-high 31 points and Los Angeles completed its first-round upset of the Grizzlies with a 125-85 victory in Game 6 on Friday night.
James scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting for the seventh-seeded Lakers, who emphatically clinched a playoff series in their own arena for the first time since 2012.
“It was definitely a Game 7 mentality for us,” James said. “We understood that we had an opportunity to play in front of our fans, and we wanted to try to end it tonight. We came out with a discipline. From the start of the game, we were just locked in on our game plan all the way until the final seconds.”
The Lakers won all three of their home games in the series, and the final victory was a scary demonstration of their capabilities when James and Davis are both healthy alongside their full supporting cast.
Davis’ imposing defensive presence largely shut down Memphis’ offense in Game 6, while Russell’s five 3-pointers highlighted a slick offensive effort from a late-blooming team with championship aspirations.
“We didn’t want to go back to Memphis, to say the least,” said Austin Reaves, who had 11 points, eight assists and six rebounds. “We wanted to end it tonight, home court, so we were super locked-in.”
The Lakers took a 20-point lead in the first half and went up by 36 in the third quarter before coasting to victory in front of superfan Jack Nicholson and a sellout crowd. James and Davis even got to sit out the entire fourth quarter, preserving their legs for the second round.
Los Angeles opens its next series on the road Tuesday against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between Sacramento and defending champion Golden State.
“This thing is just getting started,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “We passed Level 1. Now we’ve got to start shifting our focus to whoever comes out of that game on Sunday. LeBron had some great words of wisdom he shared after the game. It’s about us, just as much as it’s about our opponent. We have to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Ja Morant scored 10 points on 3-of-16 shooting for the Grizzlies, who won 107 games and two Southwest Division titles in the past two seasons, but just one playoff series.
Morant’s injured right hand appeared to hamper his shot, and he seemed unwilling to drive the paint with his usual fearlessness while Davis loomed in the middle. Morant’s teammates couldn’t pick him up: Desmond Bane, who guaranteed a Game 7, had 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting, while Jaren Jackson Jr. had 14 on 3-of-12 shooting.
“We didn’t play our best basketball at all, in my opinion, in these six games,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We got two wins in this series, but we were far from where we needed to play. Discipline, execution, defensively, the urgency, and then just our production on offense. … (we’ve) just got to find ways to get better. This is a feeling we’ve got to remember. It’s got to motivate us. It’s got to be understood that this is part of our evolution as a team.”
Dillon Brooks, the Memphis agitator who dismissed James as “old” after Game 2 and then got ejected from Game 3 for striking James in the groin, finished a dismal series performance with 10 points in Game 6 while Lakers fans booed his every move.
Brooks left the Grizzlies’ locker room before reporters were allowed in.
“People are going to talk,” said Davis, who blocked 26 shots in the series. “We’ve had some trash talk on the court in the series, but all the talking in the media, we just go out and let our game talk.”
The Grizzlies had the second-worst road record among the NBA’s 16 playoff teams in the regular season, and they lost all five of their road games against the Lakers this season.
The 86-year-old Nicholson watched his beloved team for the first time since October 2021, returning to his usual seats alongside his son. The Lakers’ most famous fan has been a fixture at courtside for the last half-century, and the Oscar-winning actor got a huge ovation from his fellow supporters whenever his face appeared on the scoreboard.
Grizzlies: Luke Kennard sat out with a sore shoulder, further hurting the depth on a roster already missing Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke. Kennard got a stinger in Game 5. … Xavier Tillman scored two points in 18 minutes.
Lakers: James won his 40th career playoff series, tying Derek Fisher for the most in NBA history. … LA has won 14 of its last 18 games. … Nicholson’s return was the highlight of a celebrity-studded night at courtside, where the fans included Larry David, Dr. Dre, Adele and Kyrie Irving, who got a big hug from James before the game. Irving is a free agent this summer, and he has been linked to a reunion with James repeatedly in recent years.