Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.
It’s hard to really put into words what just played out in Game IV of the Lakers-Warriors playoffs series. It will forever be known as the Lonnie Walker Game. The Lakers have a very storied franchise, and Lonnie Walker just permanently wrote his name into those history books.
Game IV. pic.twitter.com/vSExw2smaf— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) May 9, 2023
Fifteen fourth-quarter points. With the game, and arguably the season, on the line, it was a man who has not been in the rotation for two months that stepped up. It’s something out of a cheesy movie script only because it feels too unrealistic to ever be reality.
Led by him, the Lakers grabbed a stranglehold of the series with 104-101 win, moving up 3-1 on the Warriors. The job’s not finished but for a second-straight series, the Lakers are fully and completely in the driver’s seat and are one win away from knocking out the defending champions.
Let’s look at how they were able to absorb a Steph Curry triple-double and complete the fourth-quarter comeback.
Lonnie Walker IV
Earnestly, it’s been quite a while since the final buzzer, and the words still aren’t there to describe what Lonnie Walker just did. He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, joining a very short list of players who have accomplished that in purple and gold.
Lonnie Walker IV joins LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol as the only Lakers since 1997 to have a 15+ point fourth quarter in the postseason.— (@FlyByKnite) May 9, 2023
Factor in the fact he came off the bench, and the list has one very familiar name on this very day nearly three decades ago.
Lonnie Walker IV is the first Lakers bench player to score 15+ points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game since Kobe Bryant exactly 26 years ago today. pic.twitter.com/EPbinKFOLU— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) May 9, 2023
Lonnie was already a feel-good story for stepping into the rotation in Game 3 and helping the Lakers to a blowout win. What he did in Game IV, and specifically in the final frame, is the stuff of legends.
Perhaps most impressive was how fluidly he fit into the offense. The Lakers weren’t running anything particularly intricate or really any offensive sets at all. In fact, they were simply having whoever Steph was guarding screen for LeBron nearly every possession. On most possessions, that was Lonnie, which meant he wasn’t only on the court for a pivotal playoff game, he was directly involved in the action.
And there wasn’t a single possession in which he made the wrong decision. Sure, there were a couple of times shots didn’t fall, but they weren’t bad possessions or shots. That wasn’t always the case for Lonnie during the regular, who got sucked into the mindset of forcing things at points after falling out of the rotation.
By playing within himself, he produced on the biggest stage in the NBA playoffs in front of a sold-out Crypto.com Center against the defending champions. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the court alongside him, and Steph, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green across from him — five surefire Hall of Famers — it was Lonnie that stole the show and won the game.
There’s something to be said about Darvin Ham and the belief he instills in guys. Lonnie never quit on him, and Ham kept him engaged and part of the team so that when his moment came these last two games, he was ready to immediately step in and contribute.
That’s not normal for all teams. Simply look at the Warriors currently for an example.
.@KerithBurke describes a tension-filled locker room when Jordan Poole talked to the media pic.twitter.com/VCWpciaq3C— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 9, 2023
It was ultimately Lonnie who had the confidence and belief in himself to produce in that situation, which was nothing short of remarkable. Truly, it’s impossible to overstate how incredible that performance was.
No matter what happens the rest of this series or these playoffs, Lonnie Walker IV is a franchise cult hero at the very least. And if the Lakers reach their ultimate goal after this performance, boy......
A Game 7 feel
The Warriors played this game with a sense of desperation that they needed to have. Falling down 3-1 is a death sentence — except that one time when the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to LeBron James and the Cavaliers despite having the unanimous MVP — and they had a sense of urgency from the jump.
The Lakers did not match that for most of the night. They relied on the individual brilliance of Anthony Davis and enough spurts and runs to “stay in the battle” as LeBron said in his walk-off interview. But the Warriors had the Lakers on the back foot for much of the night.
Then the fourth quarter came around, and the Lakers shifted their mindset. Possession after possession, they were methodical and patient, bringing Curry into ball-screen actions and forcing him onto LeBron. It’s something they’ve toyed with at times this series, but this was easily the most deliberate they have been about it.
From there, the Lakers trusted LeBron to make the right play against a compromised defense. He only made one field goal, but he got to the line for four free throws and had three assists with two of those coming after getting Curry switched onto him.
It was not a good LeBron game overall, but it was absolutely the right call to get him the ball and have him manipulate the Warriors like he had done so many times in Finals before. It was also a great team effort from Dennis Schröder, Austin Reaves and Lonnie to get Steph onto LeBron, whether through staggered screens or screen-the-screener actions.
When push came to shove, the Lakers treated the moment like it was a do-or-die Game 7 because, for all intents and purposes, it was. Going up 3-1 with another home game is a HUGE difference from being tied 2-2 with just one more home game. The chips were on the table in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers responded.
Also, Anthony Davis absolutely deserves a mention somewhere in here. He sacrificed offensively with the Lakers targeting Steph in the fourth, but his effort level never dipped, and he pulled out the best defensive sequence of the season, bar none, to help seal this game.
Tweeted this in the moment but this is what you want: best offensive player in the world vs the best defensive one. Defense won tonight pic.twitter.com/3xOOFBUDBH— Daman Rangoola (@damanr) May 9, 2023
Job’s not finished
To borrow a phrase from Kobe, job’s not finished. The Lakers were in this situation against the Grizzlies, and while they took the foot off the pedal in Game 5, Memphis rolled over in Game 6.
To state the obvious, Golden State is not Memphis. There will be no rolling over. They are the defending champions for a reason. They are a dynasty for a reason. They will go down with a furious fight, if they go down. This is Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
If you don’t take care of business in Game 5 — and, honestly, that feels like it could be an ugly one for the Lakers all things considered — then you are back in a situation where it’s a must-win game at home with one of the game’s greatest players ever in Curry and a player who has a long reputation for his Game 6 performance in Klay Thompson. Lose that one, and you head back on the road for a Game 7 where anything can happen.
The Lakers are in the driver’s seat, but they have to finish the job. The Warriors aren’t handing it to them. But because of Lonnie Walker, they have three chances now to do that.
What a night. What a moment. What a Game IV.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.