Dennis Schroder fell to the Crypto.com Arena court midway through the fourth quarter clutching his right ankle, the pain registering on his face as he rocked back and forth, his Lakers teammates gathered around him in concern.
When he finally was able to get up, Schroder limped to the bench with five minutes and 41 seconds left and began a debate with coach Darvin Ham about whether the point guard should return to the tense game. The Lakers already were playing without LeBron James (non-COVID illness), Anthony Davis (right foot soreness) and Lonnie Walker IV (left knee soreness), and had lost Troy Brown Jr. (left quad strain) at the half.
Schroder made his point to Ham: He wanted to finish the game. He wanted to play through the pain. He wanted to be “great” for his teammates.
Schroder played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, gutting it out, pushing his body to score 14 of his season-high 32 points in the final frame, playing a big role in the Lakers’ surprising 112-109 win over the Miami Heat.
Schroder and Ham had their conversation, the two of them hashing it out on the sideline.
“I mean, Darvin, he tried to protect me and said that he don’t want me playing on one leg,” Schroder said. “But I felt pretty good, so I told him to let me play and to trust me, then I’ll be great. He said, ‘Yeah, be good.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be great, don’t worry about it.’ Luckily, we got the win. That’s all that matters. And I’m pretty sore right now, but I’m going to take care of it. Make sure I get a lot of treatment on it tomorrow and tonight and then be ready in two days for Atlanta.”
Schroder scored all of his fourth-quarter points after he was injured, displaying toughness and grit, rarely showing any signs of a limp.
“He knew I’d take him out of the game, so I think he was just kinda gritting his teeth and act like he wasn’t going to limp. And I didn’t see him limping,” Ham said. “Sometimes, players like that, you’ve got to save them from themselves. Our trainer Roger [Sancho] and I agreed: If he limps anywhere through this next possession, he’s coming out. We stood on that. Saw him, he went out there, ran around, got a stop, started attacking and didn’t limp. And a lot of times, when your adrenaline is pumping like that, you don’t feel it. But I’m sure, later on tonight or in the morning, he’s going to feel that. I felt like it was a pretty bad twist. I’d have to go back and look at the tape. Kid’s just a fireball of a competitor. And he showed that tonight.”
Schroder made both free throws after the timeout, pulling the Lakers to within 90-89.
He then knocked down a three-pointer for a 92-90 Lakers lead they never lost.
He made all nine of his free throws in the fourth, two with 3.2 seconds left that sealed the game.
His teammates appreciated what Schroder gave them, players like Thomas Bryant calling him “one of the toughest guys on the team.”
“He’s leveled up to where we want to raise our level up even more towards what he’s doing, especially what he did tonight,” Bryant said of Schroder.
“His toughness and his resiliency that he showed — like, I remember in the timeout when he sprained his ankle, coach tried to take him out and he said, ‘No.’ He didn’t want to get out. He said, ‘Let’s be great.’ And he went out there and you saw what he did — he was great.”
For the game, Schroder was eight for 15 from the field, four for seven from the three-point arc and 12 for 14 from the free-throw line.
“I mean, I got to be more aggressive anyway. Even when AD and Bron are coming back, I got to be more aggressive to open up stuff for them,” he said. “And the road trip, the last couple of games, I’ve been more aggressive and tonight, hearing that Bron is sick and AD is out as well, I think everybody is just giving a little bit more and that was my approach before the game. Just to be aggressive, help my teammates. Go drive and try to find my teammates and I was aggressive.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.