Austin Reaves helps spark Lakers’ win over Grizzlies in series opener

Lakers guard Austin Reaves drives down the lane past Grizzlies guard Ja Morant.
(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

Austin Reaves had just scored his ninth consecutive point in the fourth quarter Sunday, 100 or so miles from his Arkansas hometown, when he locked eyes with his teammates celebrating on the bench.

“I’m him,” he shouted. “I’m him.”

Things like this don’t just happen. These moments are built over lifetimes, from the hoop on the Reaves’ family farm in Newark, Ark., to on-court arguments with LeBron James, a player who has openly embraced Reaves.

James and Anthony Davis, the only two Lakers left from the team that won the NBA title in 2020, gave way in the fourth quarter for Reaves and reserve Rui Hachimura, deferring while the stars of the night carried the Lakers home in a 128-112 win.


“We found something that was going,” James said. “And that’s the old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’”

Stars in the postseason, the Lakers would later say, should come from all over the place. The first and second options, they’ll eventually get theirs, but with all the eyes focused in their direction, the role players need to shine.

The Lakers enter their playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies confident and on a roll. LeBron James says, “Don’t change much from what we’ve done.”

April 15, 2023

Sunday, Reaves scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth, including nine straight to extinguish Memphis’ final rally. And Hachimura hit catch-and-shoot threes every time teammates found him, tying the Lakers’ record for most points by a reserve in the postseason with 29.

The big game from the Lakers’ role players came on a night when two injuries to stars seemed like they could change the first-round playoff series.

Near the end of the first half, Davis went to the court in pain before moving to the bench with his right arm lifelessly dangling.

“Went completely numb,” he said. “It was weak. Couldn’t lift it up or hold it up myself. Couldn’t move it.”


Luckily for the Lakers, Davis only suffered a stinger and after spending halftime trying to regain feeling in his arm, he returned to the court for the start of the third quarter.

Ja Morant and the Grizzlies might not be so lucky.

Grizzlies forward Xavier Tillman has his shot in the lane blocked by Lakers forward Anthony Davis.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis gets one of his seven blocked shots on Sunday against Grizzlies forward Xavier Tillman in the first half.
(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

Midway through the fourth, Morant drove to the basket and skied toward the hoop. Davis slid in, took the charge and Morant landed roughly on his right hand, which was already padded from an injury he suffered on April 7 in his final game of the regular season.

Morant writhed and screamed in pain before running directly off the court and back to the Memphis locker room. Initial X-rays were negative, but he was pessimistic about his availability Wednesday for Game 2.

Davis had a monster defensive game Sunday, blocking seven shots and grabbing three steals. He also had 22 points and 12 rebounds. James was also mostly effective, save for five turnovers, with 21 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals.

Yet down the stretch, the Lakers’ stars gave way to Reaves and Hachimura.

“I think the playoffs is all about, obviously, guys are keying in on the stars, me and Bron, trying to figure out how they can take us out the game,” Davis said. “But you win playoff games with your role players. And that’s exactly what happened tonight.”


At this point, “role player” might not fully characterize Reaves’ importance to the Lakers. Since moving into the starting lineup late in the season, he averaged 18.3 points on 57.1% shooting.

Sunday, he settled the Lakers down by snapping their 0-for-five shooting start with a bucket. As the game progressed, he continued to make big shots, culminating with a perfect fourth quarter that included an on-the-money, behind-the-back dime to Hachimura for his fifth three of the day.

“Austin being Austin,” Davis said.

James, a longtime believer in Reaves, said he wasn’t surprised to see the second-year guard perform well in his first playoff game.

“I knew from the first practice what we had when we grabbed him, that he wasn’t going to be a two-way player for long,” James said. “Then a couple weeks went by, I knew he was going to get a guaranteed contract at some point. I just know. I’ve been around the game long enough to know great basketball IQ players and I know the type of players that fit with my game and I knew Austin would be that right away.”

He has emerged as one of the most efficient guards in the NBA, and in his playoff debut, Reaves made eight of 13 shots from the field while dishing out four assists without a turnover.

“It’s a lot of emotions,” Reaves said of his “I’m him” moment. “You dream about being on a stage like this. It’s the playoffs. And I got hot late and I had fun.”

Hachimura’s ascent with the Lakers has been more sudden.

Austin Reaves, right, celebrates with Lakers teammates Rui Hachimura, left, and D'Angelo Russell.
Austin Reaves, right, celebrates with Lakers teammates Rui Hachimura, left, and D’Angelo Russell during the second half of the Lakers’ win Sunday.
(Justin Ford / Getty Images)

He was a healthy scratch on March 26, James’ first game back after tearing a tendon in his foot, and Hachimura played limited minutes in the next two games.

Yet an aggressive performance against the Rockets started a stretch during which he scored in double figures in four of the Lakers’ last five regular-season games. He added another 12 points in the Lakers’ play-in victory before shooting the Grizzlies out of Game 1.

He even dunked on Jarren Jackson Jr., one of the top defenders in the league.

“Just, since I got here this team, they really believe in me,” Hachimura said. “My shots and my defensive side, everything in what I do. Before the game, the coaches, everybody … they gave me all the green light to shoot all those shots because they told me I’m a good shooter.”

As the playoffs continue, the Lakers will undoubtedly need more from their stars in the clutch, for Davis and James to take over a game when that’s the right play.

As they showed on Sunday, the Lakers’ stars trust that they have enough around them to win.

“Just when you know that you’re playing with cerebral guys and you know that you got guys that have high basketball IQ, then you trust that they’ll make the right play for the team,” James said.


In the big picture, that might be worth more than a single win.