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NBA playoff dispatches: Vintage LeBron propels Lakers; Clutch Butler sinks Bucks

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

Lakers 117, Grizzlies 111 (OT): Maturity separating Lakers, Grizz 


When LeBron James is healthy, a four-time NBA champion who has been to 10 Finals?


When Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks have serious accountability issues?

The oddsmakers got this series horribly wrong. 


Game 4 between the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers and second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies was perhaps the ultimate example of the stark difference in maturity between the two teams, with the Lakers taking a 3-1 series lead following a 117-111 overtime win. 

When James and Anthony Davis struggled to get things going Monday, they showed their mettle, overcoming their soporific starts by transforming into Swiss Army knives.

When Morant and Brooks lost, they showed their cowardice, as both left the arena without talking to reporters. For Brooks, it was his second straight game dodging media following a loss. 

This is what separates these two teams. 

James struggled with his shot early, but instead of pouting he decided to do anything and everything to will his team to win, grabbing 20 rebounds for the first time in his 20-season career, taking charges and making crucial buckets to finish with 22 points and only one turnover. 

With Davis shooting 0-for-5 at halftime, he didn’t hang his head. Instead, he made some of the biggest plays of the game down the stretch. 

James and Davis shined when the pressure was highest, showcasing their championship DNA. 

In the final second of regulation, with the Lakers down 104-102, James made a driving layup to tie the score. Then Davis blocked Morant’s attempt at a game-winner as the buzzer sounded. 

The lasting image of the night came a few minutes later when James drove on Brooks, making a game-sealing layup that he was fouled on to put the Lakers up 113-108 with 29.4 seconds left in overtime.

James clenched his fists. He faced the crowd and roared. He pounded his chest. He chest-bumped Davis. 

James was tired. But on a night when he struggled early, he had one of the most impressive performances of his career, becoming the oldest player to have a 20-20 game, surpassing Wilt Chamberlain’s record in 1973 at age 36. 

“You just dig deep and understand that you’ll be able to sleep at some point,” James said. “Just not right now. This is not the time to rest or forget about an assignment.”

And Davis, who’s his own worst critic, didn’t disengage when he couldn’t make a shot to save his life, like maybe he would’ve a few years ago. Instead, he dug deep, finishing with 12 points (five in overtime), 11 rebounds and four blocks, attacking and patrolling the rim on both ends of the court when it mattered most.

“Even though I wasn’t making shots, I still wanted to leave my imprint and do the little things, the intangibles that don’t really show up on the stat sheet,” Davis said. “I just keep fighting. I keep playing no matter what. Just knowing that at any moment, you can make a shot. At any moment, you can make a play that changes the way the game is going and help the team win.”

That’s called maturity.

Meanwhile, Morant and Brooks showed that they’re too young, too inexperienced and too childish to go far in the postseason.

This from Morant, the same guy who when asked if there were any teams the Grizzlies should be concerned about in the Western Conference, told ESPN, “Nah, I’m fine in the West.”

This from Brooks, the same guy who recently told reporters he wouldn’t mind facing James in the first round, you know, “knock him out right away” — and then went on to call him “old.”

The Lakers refused to engage in the trash talk this series. They were focused on basketball. The Grizzlies were focused on the Lakers. It showed on the court. 

Ultimately, when things didn’t go the Grizzlies’ way, the team’s loudest presences put their tails between their legs and hid. How is that supposed to inspire confidence from their teammates in Game 5? 

Their silence was deafeningly loud. Their talk was empty. Their confidence was conditional. 

For the Grizzlies, it was an embarrassing look. 

Now, on the brink of elimination, here’s to guessing both Morant and Brooks are regretting their earlier words.

The only thing that would make things better? If they had the courage to admit it. 

— Melissa Rohlin

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

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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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