LOS ANGELES — Lonnie Walker IV, turning in a fourth-quarter offensive performance unmatched by a Lakers player since Kobe Bryant did it before he was even born, took over Game 4 of Los Angeles’ second-round series against the Golden State Warriors.
Walker scored all 15 of his points in the fourth quarter. He became the first Laker off the bench with 15 points or more in the fourth quarter of a playoff game since Bryant did it 26 years ago to the day and led the Lakers to a 104-101 win Monday evening, putting his team up 3-1 in the series and one win away from the Western Conference finals.
Walker went 6-for-9 in the closing frame, matching the field goals made by the entire Warriors team (6-for-17). No shot was bigger than his pull-up jumper with Stephen Curry guarding him with 1:53 remaining that put the Lakers up 100-99, a lead they would not relinquish.
“It just comes with a lot of confidence,” Walker said of the shot on Curry. “I made a couple of other shots prior to that, and I think my confidence was for sure at an all-time high. … It’s probably a difficult shot for others, but it really isn’t a difficult shot for me.”
When the final buzzer sounded, Walker, who had been mostly out of Lakers coach Darvin Ham’s playoff rotation prior to Game 3 against the Warriors, collapsed to the floor, overwhelmed by the moment.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis quickly picked him up and embraced him before the entire team mobbed him to celebrate.
“The game ball definitely goes to him,” said James, who also was key in L.A.’s rally from down seven to start the fourth. “We don’t win without him.”
L.A. immediately tied it up with a 7-0 run after the third-quarter break, with James finding Walker for a 3, followed by James scoring himself then assisting Davis for a turnaround shot in the lane.
James, the 20-year veteran, played all but 13 seconds in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in 43 minutes.
Meanwhile, Davis put to rest his on-again, off-again stigma this postseason with 23 points, 15 rebounds and 3 steals coming off a strong Game 3.
But the night belonged to Walker.
“When your mind and your heart is in a good place, the body follows,” Ham said of the 24-year-old guard who signed with L.A. on the midlevel exception last summer.
Walker can opt out of the second year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. If he remains a contributor the rest of the postseason, the Lakers will certainly have thoughts about restructuring his deal for a longer-term commitment.
Walker started 32 games for the Lakers this season, but most of those came before L.A. overhauled its team at the trade deadline and Walker’s role was reduced.
After L.A. lost Game 2 to Golden State, Ham reshuffled his rotation, putting Walker ahead of Troy Brown Jr. and Malik Beasley, and Walker responded with 12 points in Game 3 followed by Monday’s memorable night.
“The greatest feeling you could ever imagine,” Walker said when asked to describe his emotions. “As a kid, this is something I’ve been dreaming of doing. Not just being a part of the playoffs, but impacting it, let alone winning in the playoffs. I’m truly proud of myself. It really shows my capabilities. Just my mental fortitude. I think the hardest thing of being able to play a lot and then not playing at all is sticking with it.”
Walker’s defense also was instrumental in holding Curry and Klay Thompson to a combined 4-for-15 in the fourth.
“I’m a role player at the end of the day, and I got to do what I got to do for my team to win,” Walker said. “Doing all the little things, playing great defense, rebounding, taking a charge, whatever it may be.”
The Lakers can close out the series Wednesday at Chase Center in San Francisco; they would then await the winner of the Phoenix Suns–Denver Nuggets series, which is tied 2-2.
Whatever Game 5 might bring, Walker’s Game 4 will be a part of Lakers lore.
“Truth be told, it might sound narcissistic or not, but I’m in love with myself, and I want to be my best self,” Walker said. “So I think that’s the real goal. I’m ambitious, and I’m eager to be where LeBron and AD are and become a star.”