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Lakers’ first quarter better than Morant’s 45, Los Angeles takes Game 3

LOS ANGELES — “I mean, pretty bad.”

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins dramatically undersold how horribly the first quarter went for his team. Seemingly rattled by the moment and a rabid Lakers crowd — it was the first home playoff game for the Lakers before a full crowd in a decade — the Grizzlies missed shots (they started 1-of-11) and turned the ball over, which fueled Lakers transition baskets, which pumped up the crowd, which unsettled the Grizzlies further and they continued to miss shots, and everything spiraled.

It was 35-9 Lakers after one quarter — tying the NBA playoff record for the biggest first quarter lead — and the Grizzlies were shooting 11.1% early in the second quarter. But a picture is worth 1,000 words, so have a look at the Grizzlies’ first half shot chart.

MEM vs LAL on 04_22_2023 (1)

Ja Morant specifically — he finished with 45 points — and the Grizzlies generally showed some fight and a path forward, but the hole they dug in that first quarter was too deep and the Lakers got the Game 3 win 111-101. Los Angeles now leads the series 2-1 with Game 4 Monday night at Arena.

It’s up to the league office whether Dillon Brooks will be available for that game. Once again Brooks had a limited impact on the court but was all anybody could talk about after the game.

Brooks entered the arena Saturday as public enemy No.1 in Los Angeles after he called LeBron James “old” and poked the bear — fans were there to cheer his every miss in warm-ups — and those fans got their pound of flesh when he was ejected early in the third for hitting LeBron below the belt while going for a steal.

Lakers fans lustily cheered Brooks’ exit. Brooks would not discuss it postgame, but Ja Morant and others in the Memphis locker room didn’t think Brooks deserved to be sent to the showers.

The question is will he be suspended for Game 4? In previous shot-to-the-groin incidents these playoffs, Joel Embiid and James Harden were not suspended for their transgressions. However, Draymond Green was suspended and the league office cited his history — Brooks has a history, too. He was suspended earlier this season for hitting Donovan Mitchell below the belt. Brooks did not aggravate the situation as Green did playing the wrestling heel and trying to hype up the opposing crowd. That’s a plus in Brooks’ column. (My guess is a fine but no suspension, although I thought that about Green, too.)

Brooks was intentionally left open by the Lakers before his forced exit and he shot 3-of-13 in Game 3. Lakers fans might want him on the court for Game 4 if he’s going to shoot like that.

For the Lakers, there are a lot of positives to take forward. This was the sharpest their defense has been all season, holding the high-flying Grizzlies offense to less than a point per possession.

Then there was another dominant Anthony Davis game as he scored 31 — the Lakers’ size is difficult for the Grizzlies to deal with.

Despite the loss and ugly first quarter, there were positives to take away for Memphis, too.

“We didn’t play great in that first quarter, so can’t you can’t dig yourself that kind of hole,” Jenkins said “Love the fight that our guys showed for quarters two, three and four.”

Leading that fight was Morant, who started slow with his injured hand/wrist clearly bothering him, but he found his groove and scored 22 straight in the fourth quarter to keep the Grizzlies within shouting distance of the Lakers. Morant’s speed makes it difficult to keep him out of the lane, but he also hit six 3-pointers and when those are falling, too, he’s hard to stop.’

How do the Lakers slow him in Game 4?

“When great players get it going, there’s nothing that you can do,” LeBron said. “You can run off 20, you can run off 30, you can run off, I don’t know, 29 out of 30. You can’t stop them.”

The Lakers need to find a way to slow him, because Morant and the Grizzlies will not have another ugly start like they did Saturday. The Lakers can put a stranglehold on this series with a Game 4 win, but Memphis is not going to give this one away as they did in the first quarter.