Hachimura was up to task on defense yet again, blocking a shot by Houston forward Tari Eason off the backboard in the fourth quarter. Hachimura was challenged again at the rim, and again, he didn’t yield, blocking a dunk attempt by high-flying guard Jalen Green in the fourth quarter.
It was a memorable night for Hachimura on defense, his three blocks a career high. It was also a night of another milestone for him, a career-best 12 rebounds.
Add in his 20 points and it was reason why LeBron James heaped such high praise on Hachimura after a 134-109 victory.
“Gameball definitely goes to Rui, for sure,” said James, who was outstanding in his play with 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, which tied him with Jason Kidd for the fourth-most triple-doubles (107) in NBA history. “I mean, he was all over the floor, not only offensively, but defensively. Big time. A couple big-time blocks, rebounding out of his position.”
The Lakers’ coaching staff has been talking to Hachimura about his defense and how he can use his 6-foot-8 frame and long arms as weapons.
Playing defense is another way for Hachimura to get more time on the court, the way he did in the 24 minutes, 57 seconds Sunday at the Toyota Center.
“They want me to have an impact on the defensive side,” Hachimura said. “I’ve been watching a lot of film with coaches and I think that’s been great for me. I’ve been learning a lot of stuff. Just watching AD [Anthony Davis], how to have the timing to block shots and stuff. It’s been great for me.”
Lakers coach Darvin Ham said he has implored Hachimura to become a top-notch defender.
“I’ve been trying to convince Rui to go up and start beating up shots as our big,” Ham said. “Our lower weakside guy, our most important guy, is our baseline help. And a couple of times he kind of whiffed and just got caught in an awkward position. But I’m like, ‘Dude.’ As big, strong and athletic as he is, with two really good hands, both offensively and defensively, he has great hands, he can start tagging some of that.”
Hachimura grabbed a rebound with a few seconds left in the third quarter and pushed it ahead, dribbling faster and faster in hopes of scoring before the clock expired. Hachimura elevated toward the rim, double-pumped and scored on a layup just before the clock struck zero to give the Lakers an 18-point lead.
“I think he’s a rhythm player and when he knows he’s going to play and he’s going to get a significant amount of minutes off the bench, I think he can be really, really good for us,” James said. “I think coach Ham has done a great job over the last couple games, including the coaching staff, of finding a rotation that’s been fitting our team and Rui has been one of the first guys off the bench and we look for him. We know what he’s capable of.
“At his size, there’s not many guys at his height and his size and his equipped build to be able to guard him on the offensive end. But tonight he was very assertive and that’s why we went to him more and more and more.”
Hachimura‘s all-around game included 10-for-14 shooting from the field and posting a plus-22 in the plus-minus category.
There was a moment in the fourth quarter when Hachimura swatted a shot by Eason and then raced up court and scored on the Lakers’ next possession.
Hachimara sprinted down the right sideline full speed, his eyes looking ahead while peeking at James as he dribbled in the middle of the fast break. With a flick of the wrist, James passed the ball to Hachimura for a dunk.
“I think me and him can connect a lot because I like to run the floor,” Hachimura said. “He needs somebody to run the floor with him too and I think me and him connect and even in the half court I can be physical, can shoot threes and stuff. I think that’s been good for me.”
Yet this game was all about Hachimura and his defense.
That’s what left the biggest impression on Davis, who had another brilliant night with 40 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
“Obviously, we know what he can do offensively — midrange, he can get to the basket and shoot,” Davis said. “But defensively, three huge blocks. Contest at the rim [with] guys trying to dunk. He got those blocks. So, defensively he was really great tonight.”
This story originally appeared on LA Times