There’s a point deep into garbage time in many NBA games where the losing team makes just a big enough run that the small notion of a comeback starts to creep into the mind. In every case, that idea is almost immediately snuffed out by the team already well ahead.
Ultimately, that was the case for Lakers on Sunday against the Grizzlies. But for a longer-than-normal moment, the idea of a miraculous comeback felt like reality.
With 6:07 left, a Jaren Jackson Jr. free throw put Memphis ahead 126-98. Less than five in-game minutes later, an Austin Reaves and-one dunk had the Crypto.com Arena rocking and the lead down to 126-119, an improbable 21-0 run.
As is always the case in those situations, the purple and gold ran out of time to complete the comeback as Memphis ultimately won a game it had long sealed. But they offered more reason to believe than the vast majority of teams in the same situation.
“I really want to credit those five guys because that’s a tough situation to be in,” Vogel said. “You got veteran guys – aside from Austin – that are losing out on minutes and you sit over there the whole game and you have to get in there at crunch time. I’ve seen a lot of situations where guys don’t handle that well but those guys really played the right way down the stretch and they tried to make a game of it. Tried to make it interesting. It was a great competitive spirit and purity to the way that group played. I definitely want to commend those guys.”
The five-man lineup of Austin Reaves, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore, Trevor Ariza and DeAndre Jordan was the one to close the game. In six minutes together, they finished with an impossible-to-replicate net rating of 181.8. Their absurd offensive rating of 190.9 was only surpassed in hilarity by their defensive rating of 9.1(!).
Reaves and Ellington combined for all 21 points in the run, the former scoring 11 and the latter 10. The two nearly split the run perfectly, Ellington scoring 10 of the first 15 points and Reaves scoring the last six on a pair of and-ones.
Austin Reaves has brought Crypto to life! ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/l3qja5VH7U— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 10, 2022
The latter of those brought the hometown fans to a roar for the first time on the night as Bazemore poked the ball away to Reaves who finished through contact on the fastbreak. The basket brought the lead to just 126-118 with 1:16 left, forced a Grizzlies timeout and saw Memphis put its starters back on the court.
“We were in that huddle and coach was drawing up a play and I looked up at the guys like, there’s 1:20 left in the game and we were down eight points,” Ellington said. “I’ve seen crazier stuff happen. So, we had a chance.”
Reaves was the catalyst during the run. On top of scoring 11 of his 16 points in the spurt, he did it while running the offense in a position more akin to his time in college than the role he’s played in the NBA. Still, he excelled on Sunday, albeit against fellow reserves, as he has all season for the Lakers.
“He’s just a super poised player to begin with,” Ellington said of Reaves. “He always plays the right way, makes the right play. He’s a hard-nosed guy. He’s going to defend. He’s going to do whatever you ask him to do. He can fit on the court with anybody. That’s just who he is. As a person and as a player, honestly.”
While the Lakers’ run meant nothing in the end, it did serve as a bright moment on a night when very little went right for the Lakers and very little deserved to be cheered.