The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors 104-101 on Monday night in Game 4 of their best-of-seven NBA playoff series to give them a 3-1 lead.
LeBron James led the way for the Lakers with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but it was unlikely hero Lonnie Walker IV who scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to help complete a late comeback, leaving LA one win away from the Western Conference Finals.
Walker, who had become a bit-part player over the second half of the season and barely played in the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, has been thrust back into the rotation against the Warriors to great effect.
He scored 12 points in the blowout Game 3 victory last time out and backed that up with 15 crucial points in crunch time to lead his team to victory and the brink of an unlikely qualification to the next round of the playoffs.
“(It’s) the greatest feeling you could ever imagine,” Walker told reporters afterwards. “As a kid, this is something I’ve been dreaming of.”
The 24-year-old added: “I’m a scorer mentality first. I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself. I know what I’m capable of, and after a lot of sacrifice and a lot of time in the gym, the fruition finally came today.”
A sparkling display from Warriors star Steph Curry – who finished with a triple-double of 31 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds – had Golden State in a good position to level the series, but a costly turnover from the two-time NBA MVP as the team searched for a game-tying shot in the final seconds left the reigning champions one loss from elimination.
Through a combination of their customary quick passing and a change to the starting line-up – Gary Payton II was thrust into the starting five and scored a season-high 15 points – the Warriors had built up a 12-point lead late in the third quarter.
But Golden State struggled for offense in the final frame – scoring just 17 points, with Curry accounting for 10 of those – as the Lakers roared back behind Walker’s late scoring burst.
The series returns to the Bay Area for Game 5 on Wednesday with a spot in the next round on offer for the Lakers.
According to ESPN, Golden State is 1-14 all time in series after trailing 3-1 – the solo comeback coming in the 2016 Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But both guard Klay Thompson and head coach Steve Kerr insisted the team has the capability to extend the series.
“It feels like what it is: (a) 3-1 (deficit). You go home, take care of business, get a win and the momentum is right back in your favor,” Kerr said. “That’s all it is. … The Lakers did a great job of holding serve here, so now we’ve got to go back and get a win at home and flip the momentum.”
Five-time All-Star Thompson echoed his coach’s thoughts: “We made history before. The goal is to win one at home. We know we are capable of taking care of home court. It’s about staying present and not looking ahead.
“It’s fun to reflect on the past and learn from it and take that same competitive energy that brought us back in the past to today.”