Saturday night’s game left the Lakers feeling both relieved to have escaped with what they got, and frustrated they made things so hard on themselves.
At the end of it, though, the Lakers beat the Memphis Grizzlies 109-108, had secured their seventh win in a row and a 14-2 record — the best start the franchise has had since the 2008-09 season. That was a championship year for the Lakers.
“It was a very imperfect game,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re happy to get a W, but certainly we have to play to a higher standard than we played tonight. We’re lucky to get out of here with a win.”
Because of the Grizzlies’ tenacity, LeBron James played nearly 39 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back, scoring 30 points while making 14 of 27 shots and shooting no free throws. Anthony Davis made his presence felt on defense, with five blocked shots and three steals to go with his 22 points, which included three three-pointers.
Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant scored 26 points, making 10 of 16 shots.
“I think it just flat-out shows it,” Morant said, having barely lost to the team with the best record in the NBA. “That no matter what, we can be in ballgames and win ballgames. We weren’t able to close out tonight, but tonight showed what type of team we are and who we want to be.”
The Lakers made uncharacteristic mistakes that allowed the Grizzlies to lead for the entire first half, by as many as 15 points. The Lakers gave up 35 points in the first quarter, and another 28 in the second quarter.
They came out of halftime having corrected their defensive woes.
“We held them to 45 points in the second half,” James said. “Even with them starting seven of seven from the three-point line, they had 10 threes at half, they were beating us in all aspects — free-throw attempts, fast-break points, everything.
“We just kept our composure. That’s what we do. We’re a very resilient team and they haven’t played in three or four days. We knew they were going to have a lot of energy.”
Morant proved difficult to stop late in the game. He scored nine fourth-quarter points and grabbed three steals during the final frame.
An and-one play by Morant gave the Grizzlies a five-point lead with 4:17 left in the game. Morant flexed and then high-fived fans on the baseline, having given the Grizzlies a lead he thought they could hold.
But the Lakers scored nine unanswered points to retake the lead. Among them, a three-pointer by Davis that tied the score at 105. This time, Davis high-fived a fan as he ran down the court.
There was still one final hurdle the Lakers had to cross. With the Lakers up three, Morant stole the ball from Kyle Kuzma and scored to make it a one-point game. Then, with 1.3 seconds left, the Grizzlies inbounded the ball with one last hope.
With the pass well-guarded, Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson dived to try to collect the ball, but it went off his hands and out of bounds.
“I’ve had games like that before in the past where I didn’t play… the team hasn’t played their best and we were able to win, but at the same time I’ve never been part of … 14-2 in 16,” Davis said. “It feels good, but we still have a lot to work on, which is the even better part.”