Anthony Davis played one of the most dominant games you’ll ever see with the NBA Cup on the line and LeBron James was an extremely deserving in-season tournament MVP. The Los Angeles Lakers were awesome defensively against Tyrese Haliburton, too, dogging him at the point of attack and disrupting passing lanes away from the ball.
The newly minted in-season tournament champions may not beat the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night in Las Vegas, though, absent a superlative off-bench effort from Austin Reaves. What made his night all the more impressive? The third-year guard reportedly took the floor despite being “under the weather” and “bedridden” prior to tipoff, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
In the postgame locker room, a giddy James playfully compared Reaves’ performance to that of Michael Jordan’s in the iconic “flu game,” when the Chicago Bulls legend battled through food poisoning to lead his team to a pivotal Game 5 road victory over the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“Who had the better flu game, AR or MJ? Debate!” James can be heard yelling in the background of Reaves’ interview at his locker.
Austin Reaves emerging as Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner
Reaves finished with 28 points on 9-of-13 shooting in 27 minutes against the Pacers, doing all of his damage from inside the arc and at the free throw line. He scored 22 points during a scintillating first half, getting wherever and whatever he wanted off the bounce for crafty finishes at the rim and tough floaters and mid-rangers.
Despite James’ light-hearted mockery, Reaves really was sick, too, admitting that he felt cold, fatigued and “short of breath” both before and after tipoff. None of that stopped him from putting on a show when Los Angeles needed him most, a hardly surprising development to his teammates and coaches.
“What he did tonight, but what he’s been doing this entire season has been unbelievable,” Davis said of Reaves, per Broderick Turner of the LA Times. “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.”
Austin Reaves has rebounded after a slow start to 2023-24 in wake of a busy summer spent with USA Basketball at the FIBA World Cup.
Coming off the bench since November 10th to better balance the Lakers’ rotations, he’s emerged as a frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 14.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game on 62.9% true shooting since being shifted into a reserve role. Reaves has also hit several big shots in crunch-time early this season, including a game-sealing triple in Los Angeles’ thrilling in-season tournament quarterfinal win over the Phoenix Suns.
“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,” Darvin Ham said of Reaves after the game. “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.”