Rui Hachimura, Lakers slam home message in 4-2 series win over Grizzlies

In the his team's win in Game 1, Hachimura became the first Lakers player since Magic Johnson to score at least 25 points off the bench in a playoff contest. 

In the NBA, some players are well known for their playoff performances. Then there are players like Rui Hachimura, who seems to channel a little Magic when the calendar turns to April.

Hachimura was instrumental to his team’s success in their Game 1 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, becoming the first Lakers player since Magic Johnson to score more than 25 points off the bench in a playoff contest. 

Over the course of the series, Hachimura averaged 14.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game while shooting 56% from the field and 52% on 3-pointers.

His season averages are 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in roughly 23 minutes per game on 48% shooting.

The 6-foot-8 forward from Japan put on a show in Game 1, lifting the seventh-seeded Lakers to a 128-112 victory with 29 points and six rebounds. He did so while shooting 11-of-14 from the field, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Nothing showed the confidence that Hachimura was playing with like a sequence early in the fourth quarter  where he drove down the lane with Jaren Jackson Jr. on his hip and threw down a thunderous dunk in his face.

He broke his normally calm demeanor to shoot Jackson Jr. a nasty look afterward. The Grizzlies’ star forward led the league in blocks per game and was named Defensive Player of the Year.

Another aspect of Hachimura’s performance in Game 1 is that he was not known as a 3-point marksman, neither when he was with the Washington Wizards nor after he was traded to the Lakers near the midseason mark.

In fact, Hachimura is shooting 34.7% from long distance over his four-year career in the league.

This seemingly aberrational shooting led many to question whether Hachimura’s level of play was sustainable.

“It was probably the best game he's had in his career,” said Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane to ESPN. “It’s a seven-game series, let’s see if he can do it again on Wednesday.”

Hachimura answered Bane emphatically, scoring 20 points and snaring five rebounds while still shooting efficiently from the field in Game 2. He followed that up with a 16-point, five-rebound effort in the Lakers’ first home game of the series.

Overall, Hachimura thrived in his sixth-man role throughout the series, but his numbers dwindled along with his minutes as the series went on.

After playing 31 minutes per game over the first two games, he averaged about 23 per game over the next four. His performance in Game 3 may have led the Lakers to believe he could still produce with that little playing time, but that was clearly not the case.

Hachimura scored seven, nine and six points in the next three games on relatively low-volume shooting.

Despite this drop-off, Hachimura took advantage of his opportunity to pick up where he left off in the playoffs with the Wizards in 2021, when he averaged 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in a five-game series loss against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Throughout a series filled with heated back-and-forth exchanges on the court and in media appearances, Hachimura has focused on his game, even after players like Bane and outspoken guard Dillon Brooks took shots at him and his teammates.

“They are a young team. They just want to talk,” Hachimura said to ESPN. “We don’t really care. We’re just going to play our game and try to win.”

Whether Hachimura will continue to play in a reduced role remains to be seen. He has been splitting time with starting forward Jarred Vanderbilt while the Lakers have experimented with more small-ball lineups with point guard Dennis Schroeder off of the bench.

The Lakers will now set their sights on another upset as they take on the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors. Hachimura will be looking to avenge fellow Zag Domantas Sabonis and his Kings’ loss to the Warriors in the seven-game series.

The Lakers took the first game of the series 117-112 on Tuesday. Game 2 is set for Thursday at 6 p.m. PST.

Bradley Sauve is a staff writer.