Lakers, Anthony Davis praise Austin Reaves for epic performance in ‘must-win’ game vs. Magic

Lakers, Austin Reaves, Anthony Davis

Austin Reaves swooped in and saved the day for the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday against the Orlando Magic. He may have saved their season, too. All that was missing was the cape.

The second-year guard came off the bench to drop a career-high 35 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists. He scored the team’s final 10 points in their 111-105 win that hung in the balance until the final minute.

From the first moments he entered the game midway through the first quarter — he drove to the cup on his first possession — Reaves was an essential spark plug for a sluggish Lakers squad. Coming off a gut-wrenching loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday — which followed a regrettable effort vs. the Houston Rockets — the Lakers didn’t really show up for what Anthony Davis deemed a “must-win” contest.

When Reaves was on the floor, the Lakers were better than the Magic. When he was on the bench, they weren’t. Single-game plus/minus isn’t a surefire indicator of value, but Reaves’ +25 was about as telling as the stat can be. On this evening, the exuberant “MVP” chants that rained down from the Crypto.com Arena didn’t seem all that tongue-in-cheek.

“For them to recognize what I do — obviously not an MVP-caliber player, those guys are really good — but for them to do that for me is special, it means a lot to me,” reflected Reaves.

“Every time I take the court, I try to play with a sense of urgency and leave it all out on the floor because I just feel like that’s how basketball should be played. For them to do that for me is special and means a lot to me. Shout out Lakers Nation.”

Reaves, a lifelong Lakers fan, called his clutch heroics “surreal.” (Reaves had close friends from home in attendance.)

“It’s special. I grew up a Lakers fan. To do it for this organization especially is surreal. Sometimes I got to stop and really think about what I am doing.”

Reaves shot 9-of-14 from the field, converted four and-1s, and made 16-of-18 free throws.

“Played extremely well, man,” said AD. “He carried us tonight with his play. Got whatever he wanted. Pick-and-rolls, 3s, got to the line. … We know what we have in Austin. He’s very confident, and he played that way tonight.”

Reaves’ effectiveness at drawing contact has arguably been the most improved area of his game, especially in recent weeks.

“Me and Bron joke about it, like, ‘Man, we wish we could get some of those,’” continued Davis. “But yeah, man, as a guard he’s able to – I don’t want to say manipulate the game – but to see how the game is being called and use it to his advantage, like the Trae Youngs and James Hardens and the guys who get a lot of free throws.”

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The Lakers outscored the Magic 61-26 in bench points. Dennis Schroder (12 points, five assists, +22), Wenyen Gabriel (six points, eight rebounds, +25), and Rui Hachimura (eight points, key baskets late) were critical contributors.

The second-unit production offered a lifeline as Davis and the starters lacked sharpness. AD semi-stumbled his way to 15 points (6-of-15 shooting), 11 rebounds, four blocks, and five turnovers. D’Angelo Russell had 18 points and six assists, although those numbers exceed his possession-to-possession impact. Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley combined for five points.

Thanks to Reaves, the Lakers (35-37) ended the weekend tied for the final play-in spot.

Reaves’ teammates literally showered him with love. Schroder and Beasley soaked him with water, while LeBron James called him a “BAD MUTHA.”

“You’re talking about arguably one of the greatest players ever,” Reaves said about LeBron’s praise. “I mean I don’t know what to say. For him to accept me the way he accepted me from Day 1, obviously I felt there was a really good chemistry, IQ-wise, from Day 1. But not just him, everybody else.”

“From Day 1 we kinda knew what we had in Austin,” added AD. “And he just constantly gets better and better. Makes the right plays. It’s weird. Comfortable with the ball in his hands late game, and he’s gonna make the right reads. I knew early on the player he could be.”

Darvin Ham said Reaves’ courage and confidence were evident early on in training camp.

“You could see right away, he didn’t mind taking chances in terms of scoring at all three levels, guarding different people. … He wasn’t afraid. And he’s just a flat-out hooper. He just loves to hoop. You can tell that by the way he works on his game, which has allowed him to be what he’s becoming to be. And that’s a consistent high-level basketball player that’s multi-faceted.”

In his second season, Reaves — who turned down the opportunity to be drafted by the Detroit Pistons to sign a two-way contract with the Lakers — is averaging 12.0 points on nearly 50/40/90 shooting splits. He’s posting 17.8 points and 5.0 assists per game on smoldering .584/.405/.828 splits since the All-Star break. He’s attacking the basket and seeking buckets with a gradually growing gusto.

“That whole year last year was kind of a year for me to figure a lot of stuff out,” Reaves noted. “I’ve said many a time, I’m not the most athletic person in the world, not the best at anything. But I think I’m really good at a lot of things.

Not bad for an undrafted free agent from rural Arkansas. Now that’s a quality origin story.

Tags: Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic