LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Lakers are not always about their star players LeBron James or Anthony Davis, as once in a while someone else will emerge and steal the limelight.
On Monday, unheralded bench player Lonnie Walker led a fourth-quarter rally as the Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors at home to leave the National Basketball Association (NBA) champions on the brink of elimination from the Western Conference semi-finals.
The 24-year-old erupted for 15 fourth-quarter points as Los Angeles completed a dramatic 104-101 victory to put them 3-1 up and one win away from clinching the best-of-seven series.
Walker, who has struggled to establish himself since joining the Lakers on a one-year contract in 2022 after battling a series of injuries, was mobbed by James and other teammates after the win.
James, led the team with 27 points, said he had urged Walker before the game to be ready to help out.
“I’ve been telling him... ‘Lonnie you stay ready. We’re going to need you at some point’,” the veteran forward said.
“For him to be as young as he is, to have that professionalism, to come out and stay ready when his number was called – we don’t win this game without Lonnie Walker tonight, that’s for sure.”
Walker said he had been primed to make a contribution.
“It means the world to me, truly,” he said.
“By the grace of god I was given an opportunity to play. Night-in, night-out I’ve been going to the gym, everyone’s been telling me to stay ready – Bron, coach, all of them. So when the call came I was locked in the entire time.”
The Lakers will head to San Francisco for Game 5 on Wednesday with the Warriors needing to win to keep the series alive.
For long periods of Monday’s game, it looked as if the champions were poised to square the series.
Stephen Curry finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists in a dazzling playmaking performance that helped Golden State take an 84-77 lead into the fourth quarter.
But the introduction of Walker changed the game, with the unlikely hero scoring all his 15 points in the final frame as the Lakers outscored their opponents 27-17 to clinch victory.
“We’re just a resilient bunch,” James added.
“They hit us with haymaker after haymaker after haymaker, trying to get us to fall.
“We just stayed in the fight. It’s a 48-minute game, a 12-round boxing match. And we stayed in it for 12 rounds and were able to pull through.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr paid tribute to Walker’s fourth-quarter performance.
“I don’t know whether he scored all their points in the fourth quarter but it felt like it,” he said. “He made a huge impact.
“A lot of times that’s what the play-offs are about. A close game and somebody comes in who you don’t expect to make an impact. The fourth was about Walker.”
In Monday’s other play-off game, Jimmy Butler scored 27 points as the Miami Heat outmuscled the New York Knicks to also take a commanding 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semi-final series.
Butler was one of five Miami players to finish in double digits as the Heat edged to a 109-101 victory.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his team were now reaping dividends from their resilience forged in the regular season, when they were forced to battle through the play-in tournament to reach the play-offs.
“We found the value in the grind of the regular season, the grind and the struggle,” he said.
“Without that struggle – where we had to find different solutions to win, with different guys stepping up – if we didn’t do that in the regular season you have zero chance to be able to do that in the play-offs.”
Jalen Brunson led New York’s scorers with 32 points, while RJ Barrett added 24 and Julius Randle 20.
Game five is in New York on Wednesday. AFP