When the Lakers built their deep roster this offseason, the expectation of it being tested in the opening month of the season likely was not expected. A host of injuries in the opening weeks has left the team down to bare bones on multiple occasions already this year.
Saturday was the latest example of that as Cam Reddish, Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt all were sidelined. That left Max Christie, who started his second consecutive game, as the team’s primary wing option.
Christie responded with a big performance in a win over the Cavs. In fact, it likely ranks as his best showing in his admittedly brief career. The second-year wing shot 5-7 from the field, hit a pair of 3-pointers and tallied 12 points in total.
“Max came in, starting for the second game in a row,” Anthony Davis said during his walk-off interview on Spectrum, “and stepped up and made some big shots, some big plays defensively, obviously late-game on (Donovan) Mitchell. Guys just got to step up. You’re missing Cam, Rui will be out, not sure how long Cam is out, still waiting to get Vando back, Gabe, so guys are just playing their roles.”
More than what he did statistically, Christie’s work defensively stood out, too, particularly to close out the game, as Davis noted. The Lakers relied on Christie to defend Donovan Mitchell down the stretch and he delivered, allowing the Lakers to ice away the game late and pull away with a win.
Under a minute on the clock, Max stepped up & locked down ️ pic.twitter.com/OVVUevXrj2— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 26, 2023
“A matchup like that,” head coach Darvin Ham said postgame, “all of those guys he had to try to defend – Caris, Darius, Max, Donovan down the stretch toward the end of the game – that’s a huge, huge challenge for a young player like Max but one that’s much needed. He was awesome tonight. We gave him a shoutout after the game. Everyone here is pulling for him. We know how special he can be. We know how special he already is. The biggest thing for him is the more minutes he gets, the more comfortable he gets.
“We had to rely on him some last year, his rookie year, due to some of the same circumstances. He was ready to go. The kid works on his game feverishly and is constantly engaged in terms of watching film and making sure he knows what to do when called upon.”
This isn’t Christie’s first run in the rotation he was thrust onto the court last season. It was a crash course then on playing in the NBA that set the table for him now. Despite his appearances being limited before this past week, Christie’s preparation allowed him to seamlessly step back into the rotation.
“One thing about Max is, I know he’s young…but he’s a professional,” Austin Reaves said postgame Saturday. “He’s been a professional since the day he got here. He always works on his craft. He’s ready. He’s a great kid. That right there speaks to itself. Whenever he has the opportunity to make an imprint on the game, he does just because he’s always ready. He never takes shortcuts. I think he went 5-7 tonight, shot the ball and, obviously, guarded their best player for the majority of the game. You tip your hat to him because you want to see him be successful.”
The Lakers will have to continue to rely on Christie in the short term. Even as Reddish continues to be listed as questionable and his return could come seemingly any upcoming game, Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt also will be out, leaving minutes for Christie.
And if he can continue to grow and have games as he did on Saturday, those minutes won’t be going away anytime soon.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.