Friday, June 2 2023

FOX Sports writers are providing takeaways from games throughout the NBA playoffs. Here are their thoughts from Monday.

Lakers 117, Grizzlies 111 (OT): Vintage James propels Lakers

When LeBron James got back to the Los Angeles locker room after Game 4, his fellow Lakers greeted him with a symphony of bleats.

They were simply saluting the G.O.A.T. in his own language to celebrate a performance that was anything but old — and a gritty win that put the Lakers on the brink of the second round.

James made the tying layup with 0.8 seconds left in regulation before scoring four of his 22 points in overtime, and the Lakers surged to a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series with a 117-111 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.

The 38-year-old James also grabbed a career playoff-high 20 rebounds for the first 20-20 game of his 20-year career. The top scorer in NBA history added seven assists and two blocked shots while committing just one turnover in his record 270th playoff game.

“I just try to be as great as I can be offensively, but more importantly on the defensive end,” James said. “That was the mindset tonight. I was able to make a couple of plays. … My teammates told me I had 20 and 20. It’s the first time I’ve done it in my career, so that’s pretty cool, I guess.”


James never responded with words after Dillon Brooks dismissed him as “old” following Game 2 last week, but his play continues to make the Grizzlies’ agitator look just as hubristic and foolish as he sounded. It has also put the second-seeded Grizzlies on the precipice of first-round elimination.

“He just took over down the stretch,” Anthony Davis said of James. “Got us a bucket to get to overtime. … All our guys, it was a good team effort. This team is not going to go away.”

Los Angeles surged back from a seven-point deficit with five minutes left in regulation with a rally that abruptly began when D’Angelo Russell hit three consecutive 3-pointers, and the Lakers never trailed in OT.

“I’m so proud of our guys, the way we fought,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “We found a way.”

Game 5 is Wednesday night in Memphis.

— The Associated Press

Heat 119, Bucks 114: Jimmy Butler puts Bucks on the brink

Where to even start? How do you properly capture that performance in words? 

We could recite the numbers, and I guess that’s as good a place as any to begin. So: 56 points (!), tied for the fourth-highest individual total in playoff history, 22 of which came in the fourth quarter, and he shot 19-for-28 from the field, and he hit 15 of his 18 free-throws. 

Oh, and Jimmy Butler did much of that work while going up against Jrue Holiday, probably the best perimeter defender in the game. And Butler also spent a ton of time guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, not exactly an easy assignment. And somehow, Butler managed to do all that, and play 41 minutes, and now the Heat, after a stunning 119-114 win in Miami, own a 3-1 series lead over the top-seeded Bucks. And just for context, here’s how teams up 3-1 have done throughout NBA history:

But you know what was most stunning about Butler’s performance on Monday night? That these sorts of outbursts are no longer surprising, that you’re no longer shocked when he rises up from behind the 3-point line and buries a go-ahead jumper in crunch time.

There was the 35-point, 11-assist performance with which Butler opened the series. And remember last year’s conference finals against the Boston Celtics, when he went for 41 points in Game 1, 47 points in Game 6, and 35 points in Game 7? And who can forget his ridiculous, meme-making 2020 run during the Finals in the bubble, when he torched the Los Angeles Lakers by racking up a pair of triple-doubles, one to go along with 40 points and one to go along with 35. 

Yet something about what he did Monday night against the Bucks just felt different. 

For one, the Bucks are a loaded team; there’s a reason they entered the playoffs as title favorites. Also, this Heat roster is just not very good. It’s rolling out a starting lineup featuring Gabe Vincent, Max Struss and Kevin Love

Butler has to do everything for the Heat. So far this series — and since arriving in Miami four years ago — he’s done exactly that. Butler has repeatedly carried the Heat further than they deserved. More interesting, though, is the reputation he’s solidified for himself. Playoff Jimmy is a real thing. And it’s something basketball fans are going to be talking about for years to come. 

— Yaron Weitzman

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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