MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BVM) – In a playoff game in which Anthony Davis and LeBron James both were in the lineup for the Lakers, Austin Reaves stole the show. “Hillbilly Kobe” scored nine straight points late in the fourth quarter to ice Los Angeles’ Game 1 win against the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis. With about a minute-and-a-half left in the game, Reaves hit a step–back 13-footer to put the Lakers up eight points. The Grizzlies called timeout and Reaves went to the bench yelling, “I’m him” to his Lakers teammates.
Austin Reaves letting the world know 🗣 pic.twitter.com/9y15iGbAh0
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 16, 2023
Reaves finished the game as Los Angeles’ second-highest scorer with 23 points on 61.5% shooting from the field and 60% shooting from three. The Lakes are now up 1-0 in the series and have flipped home court advantage on the No. 2-seeded Grizzlies. The Newark, Arkansas product, who grew up on a farm, even received high praise from James following the game.
“I knew from the first practice… that he wasn’t going to be a two-way player for long,” James said after the game. “I know the type of players that fit with my game. I knew Austin would be that.”
James might have known since before last season but even before that, “Hillbilly Kobe” showed glimpses of what everyone saw in Memphis on Sunday afternoon.
In high school, Reaves dominated for Cedar Ridge High School. Playing alongside his older brother, he won back-to-back state titles in his first two seasons with the Timberwolves. He even beat a young Malik Monk when the two future NBA players faced off against each other as freshmen in high school.
As a senior, he averaged 32.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists while leading the Timberwolves to a state title. Early on in that season, he scored 73 points and put up a triple-double in a triple-overtime win for Cedar Ridge. During the state tournament his senior year, Reaves averaged 43.3 points and was named tournament MVP. He did all of that with a torn labrum that he had sustained during his junior year.
Even with all that, Reaves was not ranked in the Class of 2016 and lost the 2015-16 Gatorade Arkansas Boys Basketball Player of the Year award to Monk. Reaves committed to Wichita State but struggled to find his role with the Shockers and transferred to Oklahoma after his sophomore season.
The 73-point game Reaves had in high school is just one example of his ability to will his team to a victory. What he did on Sunday, taking over late in the fourth quarter, is honestly just par for the course.
In high school, he once scored 33 of his 57 points in the fourth quarter and then hit a buzzer beater to win the game for the Timberwolves. At Oklahoma, he fueled the largest road second-half comeback in Big 12 history when he scored 25 points to erase an 18-point deficit against a TCU team that had current Memphis Grizzly Desmond Bane on the roster. Reaves finished with 41 points and Oklahoma got the win.
Sunday night’s performance was not as many points as Reaves is accustomed to scoring when taking over a game, but it is by far the biggest stage he has ever done it on. In a playoff series that feels like a must win for a Lakers team that is trying to make a deep run with Davis and James, Reaves isn’t flinching.
He has had to earn every inch of ground he has gained since leaving Newark. There have been a plethora of doubters and, according to Reaves, that’s what has fueled him.
“I looked him in his eyes,” Reaves said to the L.A. Times about a conversation he had with his agent prior to the NBA draft about why he wanted to be in the NBA. “And I was like, ‘To tell everybody to f— off.’ My whole life, I’ve been too skinny. Not athletic enough. At one point I wasn’t skilled enough. Everybody found excuses for me not to. … It was always, ‘We’re gonna find something about him that he can’t do good enough to make it.’”
Some, like Damian Lillard, have already retracted their earlier statements about Reaves’ ability to play but others are still waiting to be a part of the apology tour.
My bad … Reaves like that 🙏🏽
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) April 16, 2023
At each level he’s done amazing things and showed off his breathtaking ability to play basketball with the best of them. “Hillbilly Kobe” got a win in his playoff debut but he’s not done proving everyone wrong.