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Lonnie Walker IV goes from forgotten to hero in Game 4 win


He came literally out of nowhere.

Benchwarmer. Scrub. Forgotten.

He was a starter at the horrible start of the season, then got tossed aside when the Lakers got good.

Afterthought. Irrelevant. Nobody.

Many sad descriptors accompanied Lonnie Walker IV on to the Crypto.com Arena court at the start of the fourth quarter Monday night, but by the time the game ended, the building was shaking with a new and different one.

Hero.

Hero?

Call it magic, call it karma, just don’t call him anonymous, not anymore, Walker riding a blazing shooting streak out of the shadows and into the hot lights of Lakers legend.

“The greatest feeling you could ever, ever imagine,” he said.

Not to mention one of the craziest things Lakers fans could ever, ever imagine.

In a stunning finish and a roaring testament to resilience, after not taking a single shot through three quarters, Walker scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to carry the Lakers to a 104-101 victory over the Golden State Warriors and a three-games-to-one lead in this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series.

“As a kid this is something I’ve been dreaming of doing,” said Walker.

He must have dreamed big. As in, capture-a-city-and-fell-a-champion big.

With the Lakers trailing by seven, Walker began the quarter by hitting a trey, put the Lakers in front for good with a jumper in the final two minutes, and grabbed the final rebound to clinch it. In between he made shot after shot while the Warriors could only helplessly watch a guy who they thought they could ignore.

“We don’t win without him,” said LeBron James.

The 15 points by Walker in the quarter were more than the rest of the Lakers combined, only two fewer than the entire Warriors scored, and summoned the most emotional Lakers postgame celebration of the playoffs.

When the final buzzer sounded, James and Anthony Davis walked purposely through the falling purple-and-gold streamers to meet Walker near midcourt. The two superstars then surrounded the unlikely star with hugs and whispers of admiration.

“Just telling him, this is what he was built for, the moment he’s been waiting for, and he shined,” recounted Davis. “He always stayed mentally prepared and physically prepared to check in … he’s always supporting us whether he’s playing or not … it was a big time performance for him tonight. So we just wanted to embrace him and let him know that.”

Walker heard them. He understood them. Before Game 3, he had played all of 28 minutes combined in eight playoff games. He had been benched for the entirety of one of those games.

Lakers guard Lonnie Walker IV is embraced by LeBron James and Anthony Davis after the Game 4 victory over the Warriors on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

He played 25 minutes in Game 3 because coach Darvin Ham was looking for some scoring, and Walker responded with a dozen points, but he was still far out of the rotation. It was a place he had been since the middle of the season, when he missed about a month because of a knee injury and then lost his spot with the emergence of Austin Reaves and the acquisitions of Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell.

His teammates will tell you that, in terms of lost playing time, no Laker has had a more difficult time than Walker. They will also tell you that no Laker has stayed more positive and energetic and industrious in the wake of such hopelessness.

“If we should be happy for anyone, it’s him,” said Troy Brown Jr.

So, yeah, when Davis and James approached Walker and thanked him in the sweaty epilogue to Monday’s masterpiece, he knew exactly what they were talking about.

He said the two superstars thanked him for, “being a true pro … weathering the storm, learning how to dance in the storm. I got injured, fell out of the lineup, fell out of playing, I stuck with it, stayed in the gym … just being a professional.”

Their gesture, he said, was a simple but heartfelt one.

“It was just to give me gratitude on how hard it is to do what I done did,” he said.

The Lakers also have done something worthy of an embrace.

They have forged a seemingly insurmountable lead against the defending NBA champs as the series moves back to San Francisco for Game 5 on Wednesday night.

Honestly, do you think the Warriors can beat the Lakers three straight times? Including once at Crypto.com Arena, where the Lakers have won eight straight games?

The Warriors haven’t shown a consistent ability to stop Davis, who on Monday night had 23 points and 15 rebounds. They haven’t been able to tire out James, who scored 27 points and directed every bit of fourth-quarter traffic.

And, in the most important moment of their most desperate game Monday, they just couldn’t to figure out the Lakers’ defense, which held them to 17 points in the fourth quarter and swarmed their shooters such that Klay Thompson only made three baskets and Stephen Curry, despite scoring 31, missed the last two shots of the game with James hovering nearby.

Golden State is seemingly cooked. This series feels essentially over. But then again …

“One thing about when you play Golden State, you don’t have an opportunity to relax, you just don’t,” said James.

It will nonetheless take some real magic for the Warriors to survive this. And, as the hoarse hallelujahs from their fans illustrated, the Lakers now have some new magic of their own.

Illustrating the unlikeliness of his stardom, when Walker walked to his car after Monday’s win, he did so virtually alone. There was no bodyguard. There were no business associates. His exit was followed by just a single camera. Just as he once wallowed in the shadows, he ended his biggest night in those same shadows.

But, man, for 12 incredible minutes, that light …

“That karma, that good productive positive karma, it’s real,” said Ham. “Whatever you put out goes full circle. It’s either going to come back and slap you in the face or come back and hug you.”

And all the selfless support that forgotten Lonnie Walker IV has given this team?

“The energy he put out, it came back and hugged him,” said Ham. “Damn, it hugged us.”



This story originally appeared on LA Times

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