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Rui Hachimura credits Phil Handy, LeBron James for preparing him for breakout game

A historic performance from Rui Hachimura helped lead the Lakers to a Game 1 win, something he credited to work with Phil Handy and advice from LeBron James.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Many playoff series across the NBA each year feature a game won by a role player. Generally speaking, it’s not Game 1 of the series, but the Lakers won’t complain that it was Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves that guided them to a win on Sunday.

While Reaves closed the game out in style in the fourth quarter, it was Hachimura that got the Lakers to the point of being ahead late in the contest. To characterize it as catching fire would almost be an understatement.

Coming into Sunday, Hachimura had only 15 games in his career where he’d hit three 3-pointers in a game. He had one game with four 3-pointers. Yet in one of the biggest games of his career, he hit a career-best five 3-pointers.

From the 4:44 mark of the third quarter until 1:36 left in the period, Hachimura tied a career-high in 3-pointers. That’s 3:08 for those counting at home. The fifth 3-pointer was perhaps the most memorable, coming off a nifty behind-the-back pass from Reaves in the fourth quarter.

After tying the franchise record for points off the bench in a playoff game with 29, Rui spoke about what — or who — prepared him for the game.

“I’ve been watching with coach Phil (Handy),” Hachimura said. “He always told me those are going to be the practice shots for me because the way they guard, they’re going to be in the paint so I’ve got to be ready to shoot those types of shots. The first half, I didn’t get the ball so I couldn’t really shoot that. But in the second half, we were in a good rhythm. Everybody was sharing the ball and all those shots just came to me and I was confident to shoot the shot.”

The Lakers acquired Rui at the cost of Kendrick Nunn, who had not carved out any role in his time in LA, and a handful of second round picks that they replenished at the deadline anyway. Clearly viewed as someone they believed in moving forward, the Lakers, including LeBron James, have instilled confidence in Hachimura, leading to Sunday’s performance.

“Since I got here, this team, they really believe in me, my shots and my defense,” Hachimura said. “Everything that I do. Before the game, the coaches, including Phil, LeBron and AD, they gave me the green light to shoot all those shots. They told me I’m a good shooter. I was confident. I was really comfortable shooting those threes.”

It’s reminiscent of 2009 when Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson preached to Trevor Ariza to be prepared for spot-up 3-pointers on the wing in a video I swear exists but I can not find. Ariza responded with three 3-pointers in Game 4 to help the Lakers to a victory.

That type of leadership only comes from someone who has spent years in the league and the playoffs. Asked about what he’s said to Hachimura during his time in Los Angeles, LeBron spoke about how his leadership style varies with each person.

“With Rui, I see the type of player he is and can become and I just try to stay in his ear, give him positive motivation, positive messages letting him know how important he is on our team,” LeBron said. “In order for us to reach the goal we want to reach, he has to be a huge part of that and he wants to be. He’s asked me multiple times ‘What can I do to help the team win’ and I tell him exactly what I think he can do.

“It’s not about making shots. That happens. You can make shots, you can miss shots, whatever the case may be. His presence alone, his size, his athleticism, it just brings another dynamic to the ball club. It’s something we didn’t have earlier in the season. Now with Vando, myself, AD and Rui, we got a lot of length out on the floor. It definitely helps us be a complete team and he’s a really good player.”

From the moment he joined the Lakers, LeBron has been excited about Rui. Perhaps he envisioned what played out on Sunday, but at the very least Hachimura can be another wing to help this team’s postseason push. And if the Lakers can keep building him up and instilling confidence, Rui could be set up to make good on their faith.

You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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