This season, rather than recapping everything about every Lakers game that is played, I will periodically put together a shortened recap that focuses on One Thing that Mattered from the contest that just took place. This could be something good from a game the team lost, something bad from a game the team won, or vice versa. Sometimes it may be the most important thing — like an important performance or a game winner! — or sometimes it might be some random substitution or a tactical shift that stood out to me. Either way, it will be us trying to look at one thing that mattered. Hope you all enjoy the series. Now, on to it…
This Lakers team, the injured and LeBron-less version, is not a good team. We’ve been through this plenty, so I won’t belabor the point in this space.
But, that is the backdrop to the team winning a frustrating and stressful game that again showed the team’s ability to not get out of their own way while still making enough positive things happen to win. The Hornets, down bad in their own way, could have won if they’d made one more play, but the Lakers outlasted them 126-123, after an overtime period that was quite nerve wracking, but ultimately satisfying.
In looking at how the Lakers were able to hold on, I’m sure I could turn this space into another ode to Carmelo Anthony, an examination of Rajon Rondo’s best shift of the season and his sublime connection with Anthony Davis, or — if going in another direction entirely — focus on Russell Westbrook’s 4th quarter turnover fest. Instead of those things (all of which mattered), I’ll turn my focus to the one and only Austin Reaves.
The Lakers rookie didn’t have his best statistical night of the year and his boxscore, when offering a quick glance, is fairly unassuming: 27 minutes, 8 points (on 3-6 shooting), 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block, 5 fouls. He was a +3 on the night, which doesn’t even really live up to his season long standard of finding ways to be on the floor when the Lakers outscore their opponents by a healthy amount. 1Reaves, leads the Lakers in total plus/minus this year with a +45 in 213 total minutes.
That said, Reaves made several important plays over the course of the night night and, overall, I thought his combination of technical execution of the team’s defensive schemes and the ability to work outside the framework of a play design (especially on offense), led to him being someone who popped off the screen in the moment and even more so in rewatch.
A sampling of Reaves doing a bit of everything down the stretch:
When we talk about basketball, it’s very common to revert back to ideas like “he just knows how to play” or “he just makes plays” to describe someone we like. I’ve certainly uttered these cliches about Reaves, be it online or in texts with friends.
But the clips above are a visual representation of that: Reaves finding ways to stay connected defensively, getting over a screen to contest a shot; Reaves understanding the nature of passing off defensive assignments and rotating to where he’s supposed to be in order to engage the threat; Reaves sprinting back in transition defense, recognizing the box out opportunity, and digging in to take out a much bigger player; Reaves isolated late in the shot clock and going into a triple-threat move to get off (and make) a big shot in the closing minutes in a much needed game.
Reaves just knows how to play. And, against the Hornets, him again proving it was one thing that mattered.