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Lakers vs. Cavs takeaways: Max Christie and Anthony Davis shine during win

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, is fouled by Cleveland Cavaliers guard Caris LeVert as he drives to the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Lakers forward LeBron James is fouled by Cavaliers guard Caris LeVert as he drives to the basket Saturday in Cleveland. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

Here are the key takeaways from the Lakers’ 121-115 win over the Cavaliers on Saturday night.

Max depth

Max Christie dunks over a Cavaliers guard.
Lakers guard Max Christie dunks over Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell on Saturday in Cleveland. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

In a lot of ways, a game like this from second-year guard Max Christie was the expectation, the response to the promise he showed as a rookie and this past summer as an exciting prospect for the Lakers ready to grab a rotation spot.

But those minutes weren’t really there, with the Lakers and coach Darvin Ham looking instead to Gabe Vincent and eventually Cam Reddish, before Christie got the nod.

While he waited, though, Christie cemented his reputation as a true professional, the kind of compliment rarely paid to 20-year-olds in an occupation where patience doesn’t always pay.

It did against the Cavaliers and Donovan Mitchell on Saturday, Christie delivering one of the best games of his young career in his second start for the injured Reddish.

“I think when you’re trusted by your coaches, one, that helps. So knowing that he’s going to get his number called, he’s been ready. And he stepped up,” LeBron James said of Christie. “And he was big-time tonight. Big-time, one of the tough matchups in this league is Donovan Mitchell, obviously. His ability to score on all three levels — from the three line, from the midrange, get into the paint — I just think he did a good job of just trying to keep his body on him, make him take tough shots and not foul him. And he made some key shots for us, too. Key plays for us. He was big-time.”

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Christie finished with 12 points, his most this year. He scored twice on dunks off cuts to the basket and late in the fourth, he bailed the team out on a tough jumper to end a broken possession.

But it was his defense, primarily on Mitchell, that had the Lakers so excited Saturday.

“Max just wants to win. He plays hard and is going to take that challenge against a guy who is an elite scorer from all three levels,” Anthony Davis said. “He made sure that he knows his tendencies and took on that challenge, especially late game when they know — the whole arena knows — they're going to him, especially with Darius Garland out and stuff like that. So he was the guy and he had two big stops for us. There's nothing much more you can ask for. For him to only be in his second year, to take on that challenge, it shows a lot about him.”

Passing fancy

Austin Reaves shoots between two Cavaliers.
Lakers guard Austin Reaves shoots between Cavaliers guard Max Strus, left, and center Jarrett Allen on Saturday in Cleveland. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

The Lakers spent a lot of time during training camp hoping their continuity from last season would help kick-start their offensive flow and allow the team to play with more ball movement.

Through the first quarter of the season, the results have been mixed, the Lakers’ passing sometimes looking a tick slow as the ball stuck for a blink too long on the perimeter.

Saturday, though, the Lakers attacked the Cavs in different ways, using dribble penetration to initiate a lot of their passing, keep Cleveland moving and unable to key on one particular area. The result was tremendous balance, seven players scoring at least 10 points and an eighth, Taurean Prince, adding seven. Four different Lakers, including Prince, had at least five assists, with Austin Reaves dishing out 10.

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The Lakers’ 34 assists as a team was the second most this season. Last week against Houston, the Lakers had 35 assists.

“Just sharing the basketball — if you don't have a shot, move it on to the next guy and they either have a shot or move it on to the next guy. Just playing stress free and letting the ball dictate the type of shot that we get instead of guys being selfish or trying to find their own look,” Davis said. “Obviously, you're going to have that throughout the course of the game if a guy is hot or has an advantage, but for the most part, ball and body movement is something we preach.”

Reaves said the assists were proof the Lakers were playing his preferred style — “the right way.”

“Any time you can get that assist number up it means you're playing the game the right way. You're making the extra pass, playing unselfish and that's the goal,” Reaves said. “When you do that, everybody feels good and everybody has touched the ball and when it gets swung their way, they feel confident with it in their hands. That's the main thing for us as a unit: Play the game the right way and get those assist numbers up."

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Anthony Davis pressures Georges Niang as he shoots.
Cavaliers forward Georges Niang shoots under pressure from Lakers forward Anthony Davis on Saturday in Cleveland. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

After a quiet second half in a tight loss to Dallas on Wednesday, Davis scored 15 points in the third and eight in the fourth on Saturday, dominating against Cleveland’s super-sized frontcourt.

“Everybody's quick to murder AD when he has an off night. I think if you go back and look at his off nights, in some way he's affecting the game more than what the average human is picking up on,” Reaves said. “They go up these [box score], look and see how many points he had and go straight to their phones and start tweeting stuff and bashing him for not having 25 or 30. But he affects the game in so many ways that on his bad nights, he's still very productive for us. Any time he plays like this, I think we'll be pretty tough to beat. He's super efficient.”

Davis gets another big matchup on Monday against the reigning MVP Joel Embiid when the Lakers will try and keep him involved as much as he was on Saturday.

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“He sets 95% of our pick-and-rolls and when he has an opportunity to catch it in the pocket, or if the bigs are up and it allows us to find him in transition and he gets an opportunity to seal or whatever, we have to find him,” James said. “I mean, it’s that simple. And there’s also times where we have certain play calls that we can call on the fly so we can get him the ball as well. But even if he’s not shooting, it’s just him touching the ball. And I think from the beginning of the game, I think right after my and-one, when we got an opportunity to call our first set, I think he touched the ball and throughout the whole game he continued to touch the ball.

“And that’s big-time for our ball club.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.