MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Coming into the night tied with Derek Fisher for the most closeout victories in NBA history, there was no sugarcoating it — even with that history on his side — after LeBron James missed 12 of the 17 shots he attempted and coughed up a game-high five turnovers in the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 116-99 Game 5 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Tonight I was s—,” he said after No. 2-seeded Memphis climbed to within 3-2 in their first-round series with the No. 7 Lakers. “I’ll be better in Game 6.”
Anthony Davis, after leading L.A. with 31 points and tying his career playoff high with 19 rebounds, said it was his turn to lift James up after the loss. James did the same for his fellow captain when Davis missed 10 of his 14 shots in the Lakers’ Game 2 loss in Memphis.
“I had my head down and he was telling me to keep my head up. And I kind of just relayed that same message to him tonight,” Davis said. “‘You have the most points scored ever. You’re the best basketball player to ever touch the court.’
“So, it’s fine. He’ll be fine. He’ll adjust. He’ll get better. Our team will get better and Friday is another opportunity to close the series.”
L.A. trailed by 14 after the first quarter and nine at halftime before D’Angelo Russell reeled off eight straight points to start the third and close the gap, cutting the Memphis lead to 61-60 and prompting Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins to call timeout.
It was still a one-point game, with Memphis up 75-74, when Lakers coach Darvin Ham subbed Davis out with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The Grizzlies scored seven straight points in the next minute and a half while Davis was out — two buckets at the basket and a 3 by Jaren Jackson Jr. — before Ham called a timeout to get Davis back in the game.
“Obviously, Memphis knows,” Davis said of his bench rotation. “They attack the paint hard when I’m not in the game.”
Memphis only kept the pressure on from there, extending the 7-0 spurt to a 26-2 run that put the home team ahead 101-76 with 10:48 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“They just had more sense of urgency during that run,” said Jarred Vanderbilt. “They got more 50-50 balls, they got more offensive rebounds in that stretch, and that kind of fired them [up] getting more possessions and giving them more opportunities to score the ball.”
Ham kept his starters in for most of the fourth despite the wide margin, and L.A. cut the deficit to 12 with just more than four minutes remaining. Ham pulled James with 4:40 to go.
“He and I made eye contact, we had a non-verbal discussion,” Ham said. “It was time. We’re going to need him big on Friday.”
The Lakers will get another chance Friday to close out at home, where they’re 3-0 this postseason, including their play-in win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Davis, who played 35 minutes — less than the 38-year-old James’ 37 minutes — said he will be available for however many minutes Ham wants to play him in Game 6 to avoid having the series shift back to Memphis for a Game 7.
“I’m willing to play 48. This is what you play an entire season for,” Davis said. “So if Coach needs me to play 42, 45, 48, or whatever minutes to get the job done, I’ll be ready to do so.”
James, who is now 3-for-28 on 3-pointers since Game 1, and just 6-for-36 for the series overall, admitted that he must improve on the offensive end.
“Just got to be better,” James said. “It starts with me. Tonight I was not very good at all. My defense was pretty good. Offensively, I was not really good. So, we all got to do a better job helping one another.”
The Grizzlies starting backcourt, on the other hand, was exemplary. Desmond Bane led all scorers with 33 points, and Ja Morant scored 31. The two also combined for 20 rebounds and 12 assists.
“I have nothing to say about them, honestly,” Russell said.
Things could look a lot different for the Lakers in 48 hours at Crypto.com Arena. Then again, they might have opened the door for Memphis to believe again.
“We were told we weren’t going to be here in the first place,” Ham said, alluding to his team’s 2-10 start to the season. “It’s no pressure, it’s just basketball.”