June 23, 2024

Austin Reaves had one last special moment to deliver, one last play to provide the Lakers, one last ounce of energy to give on a night when he was not feeling his best.

So, when Reaves drove hard into the lane late in the fourth quarter Saturday, finding a burst of energy yet again that allowed him to score while being fouled by Indiana’s 6-foot-9 Obi Toppin, he was able to breathe again because the Lakers were on their way to winning the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament championship over the Pacers at T-Moble Arena.

Reaves had felt “achy” and he was “cold” all day after waking up Saturday morning, and he was not able to shake those feelings while playing almost 28 minutes.

Yet he pushed his body, and in the process raised his game to another level with 28 points. He was nine-for-12 shooting from the field, 10 of 12 from the free-throw line, showing no signs of slowing down when his body was not right.

“It was something I was battling all game, just not really having the nutrients in my body that I needed,” Reaves said. “Always kinda felt short of breath. Especially when there was a long period of time when we were going up and down. I was definitely tired a lot and I was always cold. I couldn’t seem to really warm up.”

Reaves had played 13 holes of golf Friday and then returned to his hotel not feeling well.

The thought of not playing was considered. Then he thought about his mom, Nicole Wilkett, who played basketball at Arkansas State, and quickly knew that was not an option.

“It crossed my mind once or twice,” Reaves said. “But I think my mother would’ve strangled me to death if I didn’t play.”

Reaves laughed.

There was also how competitive he is and how he wanted to be there for LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers.

“You don’t want to miss a game,” Reaves said. “I don’t want to let my brothers down. I don’t want to be the one that misses a game when I could’ve potentially helped win it.”

There was a stretch in the third quarter in which Reaves took over.

He made five of six shots, all five of his free throws and scored 15 points.

“As I mentioned with Bron and with AD, Austin is also one of those guys that can carry the group at certain segments of the game, finish games and make all the plays you ask him to make and some that you weren’t expecting,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.

Ham added: “He’s a competitor, man. You watch him work on his game. You watch him try to go make plays for his team, watch him make plays on both sides of the ball. He’s just a highly, highly elite, intelligent basketball thinker and worker, and it shows once we get in these moments when we need him.”

When Reaves is excelling the way he was Saturday night, it takes some of the load off Davis, who had a double-double with 41 points and 20 rebounds to go along with five assists and four blocked shots, and James, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds.

“What he did tonight, but what he’s been doing this entire season has been unbelievable,” Davis said. “He actually takes a lot of pressure off us too. We draw so much attention and he’s able to go one-on-one or play-make for himself or for the other guys. He’s meant a lot to our organization and to our team. There’s nothing that he can’t do on the offensive end, and he’s locking in defensively. He means a lot to our ballclub, and it just shows every time he steps on the floor.”

In the Lakers’ hierarchy, it starts with James and Davis. Most believe Reaves is the third cog in the wheel.

Reaves shied away from that.

“I don’t think about it,” he said. “Obviously, we got a lot of really good players, especially D-Lo [D’Angelo Russell]. And I think those, that third role, or third-star comment could kind of just be thrown around. It could be anyone on any night. Like I said about Cam [Reddish] tonight. He didn’t score a lot, but I felt like he was one of the best players on the court with the way he defended and really changed the game on that end of the floor. But I don’t think anybody on our team is worried about who the third guy or fourth guy or fifth guy is. We just want to win.”

On this night, Reaves was the third option — and a very good one.

That made for a funny moment when Reaves was asked if he felt his 28 points contributed to him earning the $500,000 that went to all the Lakers players for winning the tournament.

“Honestly, I have no idea. The only thing I could actually think of is to join a golf club in L.A. somewhere, so I can golf whenever I want out there,” said Reaves, an avid golfer. “I just try to play the game the right way and everything kind of worked tonight.”

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