In a lot of ways, a game like this from second-year guard Max Christie was the expectation, the response to the promise he showed as a rookie and this past summer as an exciting prospect for the Lakers ready to grab a rotation spot.
But those minutes weren’t really there, with the Lakers and coach Darvin Ham looking instead to Gabe Vincent and eventually Cam Reddish, before Christie got the nod.
While he waited, though, Christie cemented his reputation as a true professional, the kind of compliment rarely paid to 20-year-olds in an occupation where patience doesn’t always pay.
It did against the Cavaliers and Donovan Mitchell Friday, Christie delivering one of the best games of his young career in his second start for the injured Reddish.
“I think when you’re trusted by your coaches, one, that helps. So knowing that he’s going to get his number called, he’s been ready. And he stepped up,” LeBron James said of Christie. “And he was big-time tonight. Big-time, one of the tough matchups in this league is Donovan Mitchell, obviously. His ability to score on all three levels — from the three line, from the midrange, get into the paint — I just think he did a good job of just trying to keep his body on him, make him take tough shots and not foul him. And he made some key shots for us, too. Key plays for us. He was big-time.”
Christie finished with 12 points, his most this year. He scored twice on dunks off cuts to the basket and late in the fourth, he bailed the team out on a tough jumper to end a broken possession.
But it was his defense, primarily on Mitchell, that had the Lakers so excited Friday.
“Max just wants to win. He plays hard and is going to take that challenge against a guy who is an elite scorer from all three levels,” Anthony Davis said. “He made sure that he knows his tendencies and took on that challenge especially late game when they know, the whole arena, knows they’re going to him — especially with Darius Garland out and stuff like that. So he was the guy and he had two big stops for us. There’s nothing much more you can ask for. For him to only be in his second year, to take on that challenge, it shows a lot about him.”