Game IV: Lonnie Walker IV becomes latest Laker hero, outlasting the hard times

If you know the story of Lonnie Walker IV, it is impossible to not root for the 24 year old.

From being abused mentally, physically and sexually throughout his youth, to riding the rollercoaster that is the NBA journey as a role player, Walker exudes resiliency at its highest level.

So when Lonnie went from starting SG of the Lakers in November to out of the rotation entirely since the deadline, he just kept the course, staying ready for his chance.

That chance came during garbage time minutes of Game 2’s blowout loss to the Warriors. While unwatchable for Laker fans, the Lakers coaching staff and starters were locked in and noticed Walker’s effort. His hard work and stay ready attitude granted him big minutes in both Game 3 and Game 4, and because of it Lonnie will forever be in Lakers fans good graces.

“He fell out of the rotation for no fault of his own,” Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said. “But he remains a trooper, remained professional, remained high-spirited, positive. And he really kept working on his game, attacking his game every day, really staying locked in on the information, especially during these playoffs. … And when your mind and your heart is in a good place, the body follows.”

Walker arrived in L.A. this summer from a post-contender San Antonio Spurs organization, hoping to play meaningful minutes after logging a grand total of seven non-garbage time seconds in the NBA playoffs in his first four seasons. For the last two-and-a-half months, he wasn’t playing, making him a fixture in Lakers Stay Ready games.

The first possession of the fourth quarter set the tone for the Lakers’ 104-101 Game 4 comeback win over the Golden State Warriors.

With the floor spaced and his teammates flattened along the baseline, LeBron James ran a pick-and-roll with Lonnie Walker IV, who was being defended by Stephen Curry.

As Curry switched onto James, Andrew Wiggins, who was initially defending James, hesitated and briefly shaded over toward the Lakers’ legend, waiting to fully commit to the switch. That was all the space Walker needed to pop toward the left side of the top of the arc, drilling a 3-pointer as Wiggins rotated over to contest his shot.

The basket cut the Lakers’ seven-point deficit to a more manageable four points and foreshadowed the hero of the fourth (Walker) as well as the Lakers’ preferred target (Curry).

Walker heated up from there, scoring all 15 of his points in the fourth — nearly matching the Warriors’ total (17 points) by himself. He became the first Laker to come off the bench and score 15 or more points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game since Kobe Bryant did it 26 years ago to the day — almost two years before Walker was even born.

Now, thanks in large part to Walker’s out-of-nowhere contributions, the Lakers are up 3-1 in the series, one win away from knocking out the defending champions and heading to the Western Conference finals.

“The game ball definitely goes to him,” James said. “We don’t win without him.”

James (27 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 43 minutes) and Anthony Davis (23 points, 15 rebounds and three steals in 43 minutes) churned out their typical playoff efforts. Austin Reaves added 21 points. But Walker stole the show in what is already being dubbed as The Lonnie Walker IV Game.

The Lakers’ playoff run has been littered with critical performances from their supporting cast. It’s become this team’s defining trait for one player not named James or Davis — and sometimes two or three — to go off and swing a game. Reaves’ Game 1 and 4 against Memphis. Rui Hachimura’s Game 1 and 2 in Memphis. D’Angelo Russell in Game 6 versus Memphis and Game 3 versus Golden State. Dennis Schröder in the Play-In game against Minnesota and Game 1 versus Golden State. And now Walker in the biggest win of the season.

These unexpected jolts of energy from L.A.’s supporting cast has been one of the key differences in this series. For the first time in their rivalry, James, not Curry, has the superior surrounding talent. Walker’s surprising breakout game punctuated the point, as well as the Lakers’ by-committee approach this postseason.

Walker’s speed and athleticism fit right in this series, which has featured plenty of transition play from both sides.

“I’m a scorer-mentality first (player),” Walker said. “I got a lot of confidence in myself. I know my value. I know what I’m capable of doing.”

With the game hanging in the balance, James fired a cross-court pass to Walker, who took Curry off the dribble and knocked down the 15-foot go-ahead jumper with 1:53 remaining. The Lakers never relinquished the lead.

When the final buzzer sounded, Walker, trying to process the moment, collapsed to the floor. James and Davis quickly picked him up and embraced him, sharing how proud they were of him and how important he is to the group. Shortly after, the entire team mobbed him to celebrate.

“The greatest feeling you could ever imagine,” Walker said. “As a kid, this is something I’ve been dreaming of doing. Not just being a part of the playoffs, but impacting it, let alone winning in the playoffs. I’m truly proud of myself. It really shows my capabilities. Just my mental fortitude. I think the hardest thing of being able to play a lot and then not playing at all is sticking with it.”

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