Rui Hachimura comes up big for the Lakers with critical block during overtime
The game was at its most tense moments when Rui Hachimura delivered the play of the game for the Lakers when it mattered the most.
They were holding a five-point lead in overtime when Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson drove the lane for a layup that Hachimura leaped high to block. Problem was, he was called for goaltending, which would cut the Lakers’ lead to three points.
But the referees overturned the call, keeping the Lakers up by five and giving Hachimura his team’s only block of the night with 1 minute 44 seconds left in the overtime.
From there, the Lakers held off the Knicks, winning 129-123, Hachimura doing his part in a big way.
“We don't want Rui to fit in. We want him to fit out,” LeBron James said. “We don't want him to come in and just be on some cool. Because that's, he is cool. He's super cool. Very low key, low maintenance, but his ability and what he can bring to our team, we need him to showcase that every night for us. Me and AD [Anthony Davis] said, ‘Be aggressive from the very beginning,’ and he was that all the way to the very end, finishing off his performance with that block. So, it's a great piece to have, and we're lucky to have him.”
An injury forced Lakers coach Darvin Ham to make a change to his lineup Tuesday night against the New York Knicks and that led to Hachimura getting the start.
And with the return of James and Davis after both sat out Monday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, it became a big starting group with the 6-8 Hachimura alongside them.
Even with this being just his fourth game with the Lakers since being acquired from the Wizards, Hachimura was more than up to the task, scoring 19 points and collecting nine rebounds.
Hachimura said he found out “right before the game” that he was starting and that “I didn’t even know it.”
“I was like, ‘Oh, OK. All right,’” he said, smiling. “But I started before most of my NBA career, my first and second year [in Washington]. I’m more used to that, you know, being a starter. It was nothing crazy. I was ready to play tonight. Either coming off the bench or starting, I just want to play and help the team. I was trying to be aggressive. Today I think I did it on both ends.”
Early in the third quarter, Hachimura tipped out a rebound, giving the Lakers another offensive possession. He then reset himself in the corner and took a pass from Dennis Schroder, knocking down a three-pointer.
Then in the fourth quarter, Hachimura played good defense on Julius Randle shooting a three, forcing the Knicks forward into a miss. Hachimura then spirited down the court and took a pass from James and scored on a dunk, giving the Lakers a six-point lead and forcing the Knicks to call a timeout to regroup.
“I always tell my guys, the only mistake that you can make with me and my staff and our team is to not play hard and not compete and not be aggressive,” Ham said. “So, he did just that, settled in, and he just played basketball. Was in the right spot, had some offensive rebounds, had the block of the game, which did turn out to be huge.”
Hachimura’s other big play came with 1:58 left in the fourth quarter in which Hachimura outleaped everyone for a defensive rebound off a Jalen Brunson miss.
But his biggest moment was the blocked shot.
As referees looked at the review of the play with 1:44 left in the OT, Hachimura stood on the Madison Square Garden court, his hands on his hips, waiting for the call to be made.
“I knew it was a block, but it was close,” he said. “But they took forever to review the call. I got a little nervous, but I knew it wasn’t goaltending. It was a good one.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.