Reaves heard a voice call his name and then motioned him over. It was Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton, who looked the second-year guard in the eyes and offered some words of encouragement.
“Come here, Reaves. I like you,” Payton said. “You got some dawg in you. I like that. I like that you got that dawg.”
“Honestly, I didn’t care like I should have because I was pissed off about the game. But, after the fact, I got on the bus and I was like, ‘Hold on!’” Reaves said when thinking about his conversation with Payton. “I was like, ‘That just happened.’ He’s the dawg of all dawgs. He’s a very established basketball player and defender and for him to acknowledge what I do is special. Anytime you get that kind of validation from a Hall of Famer or guy that’s been in the league for a long time it means a lot.”
Reaves showed some of that dawg in him in the third quarter of Game 4, when the Lakers were trying to go toe-to-toe offensively with the Warriors.
He had 10 points in the third, making three of five shots, including two of three three-pointers, while playing all 12 minutes.
He had an important three-pointer to chop the Warriors’ 12-point lead down to nine.
“It’s his first time, his first time through the playoffs and he’s doing a great job battling through the ups and downs, trying to stay aggressive, stay focused, stay locked in, not getting down on himself,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Austin, I expect him to be fearless as always and he was. There was some not-so-good moments, but him being a trooper. I pulled him over and I told him, Stay aggressive.’ And I said, ‘A couple of those shots you are catching, a couple of those passes, you got to be ready to shoot.’ And, the very next play, I swear, the ball came to him and he just threw it up there like it was nothing, second nature, and it went right through the rim.
“So, he just has to stay fearless, stay aggressive and stay locked in like he always has been. He’ll make it through the rough patches of the game.”
In the first three games against the Warriors, Reaves had been off, his offensive play not efficient, his shots not falling.
The two players have developed a strong bond both on and off the court since Reaves landed with the Lakers on a two-way contract after going undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2021. And this season, it has paid off for both, as Reaves turned into a breakout star for the team, further gaining the respect of the most vaunted player in the NBA whose team desperately needed a lift.
Reaves was instrumental in the Lakers turning their season around after he returned from a hamstring injury on Feb. 7, helping them climb from 13th in the Western Conference to seventh. In the 23 games after the All-Star break ended, Reaves averaged 17.6 points, up from the 10.8 points he averaged in the 36 games prior to his injury.
And in the Lakers’ first-round playoff series against Memphis, Reaves shined, averaging 16.5 points a game while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from beyond the arc. On Monday night, he scored 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting with four assists to push the Lakers to a 3-1 series lead over the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
“Like be you, keep being you, don’t worry about what’s going on, next play, next play, next play. When you’ve got teammates like that, it’s easy to listen.”
Reaves didn’t deny that some of the struggles he’s been encountering stem from fatigue from the whole season as well as difficult defensive assignments in the first two rounds.
“I feel good. Today I felt a little better than I have for the first three games, but hey, this is part of it. You go through the first six games chasing Desmond Bane and Ja Morant around, and this is what? Game 92 for me? This is my first time — this is like three college seasons in one — so I’m learning on the fly.
“I’ve got good vets to learn from. They wouldn’t let me shoot yesterday after practice, they told me to go home and lay down. So I’m learning on the fly, like I said, but this is a lot of fun.”
Reaves played an integral role in the Lakers’ Game 4 victory, keeping his team afloat in a third quarter when the game certainly could have gotten away from them at multiple points. Now, the question becomes if his fatigue continues in Game 5.
But if the Reaves that the Lakers know is back for good, L.A. is in good shape the rest of the way.
Steve Kerr says Lakers were rewarded with illegal screen calls
In the other locker room, the Warriors are focusing on a completely different situation after the Game 4 loss. Head coach Steve Kerr put the focus on the officials, and specifically, three illegal screen calls that were made in the third and fourth quarter on Monday night.
Kerr said the Lakers did a good job selling contact and were rewarded with illegal screen calls that were likely incorrect, although he admitted he hasn’t looked at the film.
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