As Rui Hachimura stood at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, a chant rang out from the fans inside Crypto.com Arena:
When he made the second of his two free throws, Hachimura had given the Lakers a one-point lead over the resilient Denver Nuggets.
The Lakers knew they needed their role players to play at a high level, and there were times when Austin Reaves, Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt and Dennis Schroder did. And there were times when role players like D’Angelo Russell were unable to provide the Lakers much in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
So, even with Reaves scoring 23 points on seven-for-10 shooting and three for five on three-pointers, and adding seven rebounds and five assists in his role, it wasn’t enough to help the Lakers in their 119-108 loss to the Nuggets on Saturday night.
Even with Hachimura scoring nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter and collecting six rebounds, it wasn’t enough to stop the Lakers from going down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series.
Vanderbilt and Schroder were the two assigned to defend Jamal Murray, but no one was able to stop him in the first half, when he scored 30 points on 13-for-20 shooting and four for eight on three-pointers. He finished with 37 points.
“I thought they did the best they could, all of them,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said about his role players. “They competed. I’m disappointed but I’m not upset, you know what I mean, in terms of, yeah, it sucks to lose. But those guys, they fought their hearts out.
“They tried to do it. They tried to execute what we gave them. For some of them, shots went down. For some of them, it didn’t. That’s just the way it goes, man. It’s their fight.
“Nobody was out there just going through the motions. I felt like everyone was competing and trying to get stuff done when they were on the floor.”
Hachimura started to cook for the Lakers in the fourth. His three-pointer gave them a one-point lead to open the fourth and his 16-foot jumper helped them take a one-point lead again after Nikola Jokic (24 points) had scored for the Nuggets.
Hachimura also was assigned to defend one of the tough matchups in the NBA in Jokic.
From the outside, it looks like having to score and guard Jokic would take a physical toll.
“It’s actually not bad,” he said. “I like being physical. It’s just nothing, you know. For me, it’s not that crazy. But as a team, I think they are just — they are big. They are very physical. They are fast. So you know, just those are things hard on us right now. We have just got to try and win the next game.”
On the flip side, the role players for the Nuggets were outstanding.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 12 of his 17 points in the third, going six for 10 from the field and four for seven overall from three-point range.
Bruce Brown, off the bench, had seven of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, going six for 11 from the field and staring at the Lakers bench several times after knocking down a big-time shot in the fourth.
“I think it’s been the timely shots by their role players,” said LeBron James, who had 23 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. “Obviously, I think the KCPs and Michael Porter Jrs. and Bruce Browns — even Jeff hit a big-time timely shot today — when we were kind of going on a run, I think it’s been the supporting cast that have kind of made those timely shots that’s allowed them to kind of have the edge.”
Before the game, Ham said Russell was “one of our biggest weapons” and that he wanted his point guard to “go out there and play aggressive basketball.”
That was far from the case for Russell.
He was awful — again.
Russell missed seven of his eight shots and five of his six three-pointers. He had as many turnovers (three) as points (three).
In the first two games of this series, Russell was not a factor. He had been shooting 36.8% from the field and 12.5% from three-point range. He had been averaging 9.0 points and 4.0 assists.
So, Game 3 was just another sign of his struggles.
The Lakers play Game 4 on Monday night, and it’s either win or their season is over.
Russell was asked what his mental approach will be.
“For me? Oh, I don’t know,” Russell said. “I really don’t. I’ll try to figure it out.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports