Heading into Game 1, if I told you two Lakers would combine for 52 points in a Lakers blowout win, you’d bet the house on those players being LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
If I said a Lakers player was going to drop 9 consecutive points in crunch time, you’d assume James or Davis.
If two separate players were going to drop 12+ points in a quarter, once again you’d think James and Davis.
Tonight while the star players did their part, it was the supporting cast who snatched the spotlight.
Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura combined for 52 points. Hachimura dropped a game high 29 points off the bench (12 in the third quarter), with Reaves dropping 23 points (14 in the 4th quarter.)
Despite the final score indicating a blowout win, these were not garbage time stat padding for the surprising duo.
At halftime the Lakers were trailing and were looking for a spark plug. Insert Hachimura and his 12 points.
When Reaves entered the game with 9:05 left in the fourth quarter, the Lakers trailed 99-98.
Within 30 seconds later, he was drawing a foul and sinking two free throws.
The most iconic of his explosive outburst, has to be as the Lakers led 118-112 with 1:30 to go — Reaves hit a fadeaway jumper, then screamed, “I’m him!” while leading to a Grizzlies’ timeout.
Austin Reaves letting the world know 🗣 pic.twitter.com/9y15iGbAh0
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 16, 2023
Austin Reaves just continues to impress with every opportunity he gets. The former Oklahoma star wasn’t even drafted in 2021. He fought to make the Lakers roster after originally signing a two-way contract. He earned his position in the rotation, eventually grew into a starter, and is today somewhat easily the third-best player on the team.
But on Sunday, the emergence of the newest young Los Angeles Lakers star hit a new peak.
“I know it’s a lot of emotions,” Reaves said. “You dream about being on a stage like this with the best basketball players in the world. It’s the playoffs. I got hot late and, you know, had fun.”
Reaves is a second-year pro who came almost out of nowhere just to reach the NBA. Now he plays on a team with possibly the greatest player in NBA history in LeBron James as well as another max-contract point guard in D’Angelo Russell.
That such a star-studded team would turn to him as its closer says everything that needs to be said about Reaves. He isn’t just a role player. He’s going to be a fixture in the NBA for years to come. The best players in the NBA took notice. Damian Lillard and Trae Young gave him his flowers while watching at home.
While we often focus in on singular players when discussing the NBA, it’s important to remember that this is in fact a team sport. The Lakers learned that the hard way over the past few seasons.
The Lakers’ 2020 championship run was littered with key performances from their supporting cast, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso. The Lakers’ depth has been questionable since then as they shifted their mentality to star power over depth. But if Game 1 was any indication, this is the deepest roster since the title group — if not an even better bunch.
On Sunday, Reaves (23 points, including nine straight in crunch time) and Hachimura (29 points, five 3s, six rebounds) were the role players who stepped up in a meaningful way, carrying LA’s offense during pivotal stretches. The Lakers had five players score 19-plus points (James, Davis, Reaves, Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell). Dennis Schroder and Jarred Vanderbilt chipped in defensively. This group is shaping up to be one of the most dangerous No. 7 seeds in recent memory.
The supporting casts shine shouldn’t completely dim the light on the great performances by the stars.
After Davis lost feeling in his arm, the Lakers’ medical staff examined him during the ensuing timeout and determined he needed to go back to the locker room for testing. Fewer than 24 minutes into the Lakers’ postseason, it appeared to be over — with Davis’ season ending due to injury yet again.
But tests were negative, and Davis shook it off, returning for the second half. He continued his dominant two-way performance, finishing with 22 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and a playoff career-high seven blocks. Davis’ rim protection — in addition to the blocks, he altered at least a half-dozen shots — was stellar. He outshined his counterpart, Jackson Jr., the Defensive Player of the Year favorite, on that end. These are the types of performances Davis churned out during the 2020 title run — and the reason for optimism around LA if he can stay healthy.
LeBron James added 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. And maybe more impressive was his willingness along with Davis to let the young guys cook. There was a 6 minutes stretch where the offense ran through Reaves. He was the primary ball handler and shot maker with James and Davis effectively being used as floor spacers and screeners.
The star players ability to find and trust the supporting cast was refreshing.These games won’t happen every night from Reaves and Hachimura, but the play style sure can. Hachimura’s floor spacing, and post scoring is a real component of this team.
Reaves’ combo guard play style, attacking the rim and knocking down the 3, will only make it easier for James and Davis as the title pursuit deepens.
After the game, Lakers star forward LeBron James told reporters that he knew early on that Reaves would be a key player on the team.
“I knew from the first practice that he wasn’t going to be a two-way for long … I’ve been around the game long enough to know great basketball IQ players … and the [guys] that fit with me,” he said.
It took the Lakers all season to figure this roster out. The slow burn finally appears to be paying off.
The Lakers will look to keep momentum in Game 2 on Wednesday night.