The Lakers were leading by just one point this tense in-season tournament game against the Phoenix Suns as Anthony Davis dribbled the basketball up the court, his eyes looking toward LeBron James, his mind telling him to pass the ball to his more famous teammate who had been on a tear the entire game and had been the most clutch player on the team.
But as James trailed on the play, he instead motioned for Davis to pass the ball ahead to Austin Reaves, who himself was having some special moments during the game. Davis set a screen on Grayson Allen as Kevin Durant backed up. By the time Allen recovered, it was too late.
Reaves pulled up for a step-back, 27-foot shot, the ball settling through the nets with 15.3 seconds left, the Lakers lead now four points because the third-year guard delivered when the game hung in the balance on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena.
The Lakers would go on to win, 106-103, and Reaves had played a big role in the victory that sent his team to Las Vegas to face the New Orleans Pelicans in the semifinals of the NBA’s in-season tournament on Thursday night.
“We just have a lot of confidence in [Reaves] and what he’s able to bring to our team and his ability to score at will or draw fouls,” said Davis, who had 27 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. “Whether it’s late game or mid-game or early game, we feel like we can go to him at any time and he’ll make the right play.”
Reaves turned and yelled. He then flexed.
A few seconds later, Reaves was slapping hands with James, who had another stellar night with 31 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals.
But when asked about his first celebration, Reaves smiled.
“Honestly, I think my eyes were closed. I don’t know if I was actually flexing. I was just yelling,” he said. “And yeah. Like I said, every game I play is the same. I want to win. Regardless of in-season tournament or not. And that was a good ballclub we had to fight off in the second half. And we did just enough to win.”
Reaves was a force for the Lakers in the game, scoring 20 points on seven-for-16 shooting, grabbing six rebounds.
He had 13 points in the third quarter, making five of seven shots, including both of his three-point attempts, to go along with four rebounds.
“Man, Austin is a big-time player,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “It’s the reason we wanted him here for the present and the future. Everybody saw what he did to finish last year, what he did for Team USA. He has just grown, grown and grown and he thrives in those moments, those big moments, whether it’s getting a big stop, making a pass, making a big shot, just really drawing fouls at key moments. Yeah, he’s just a big-time player, flat-out. And he saved us a little bit tonight.”
Rebounds, rebounds, rebounds
The Lakers had 21 offensive rebounds, which gave them extra possessions.
Davis had nine offensive rebounds.
But perhaps just as impressive were the four offensive rebounds Jarred Vanderbilt collected.
It was just his second game back after missing almost two months with left heel bursitis.
“Well, that’s one of his superpowers, is to be able to get us extra possessions,” Ham said. “Some guys just have that knack, that nose for the ball to be able to track down and anticipate certain bounces and just have that knack for hunting down the ball. The old term, ‘They have a nose for the ball.’ That totally applies to Vando.”