The Washington Wizards have shown their confidence in Rui Hachimura from the very beginning, and he rewarded them Monday with one of the best games of his career.
Hachimura scored 20 points on eight of 12 shooting from the field and grabbed 13 rebounds to play a key role in the Wizards' 122-114 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 4 of their playoff series.
Though the 23-year-old forward from Japan has started every game he has played for Washington in his two NBA seasons, his performance Monday had his team-mates and head coach Scott Brooks raving.
"He's growing up right in front of our eyes. Sometimes I want these guys to be 27 right now and four seasons of playoff experience, but you get it by going through it," Brooks told reporters.
"He was a big, big part of us on both ends of the floor. He's a multi-defender, he can guard many different types of player, and we need his rebounds. We can't just rely on our point guard getting rebounds.
"He was good on guarding, he was good on making shots. He had a big three and had a big defensive possession not too far from one another."
Hachimura had a pair of key baskets late in the game, capped by a three-pointer off a pass from Bradley Beal that gave Washington a six-point lead over the top-seeded 76ers with 45.8 seconds to play.
"It was a great pass by Brad. ... He trusted me and he passed to me, so I had to shoot with confidence," Hachimura said. "That was a big three for sure, especially at this moment.
"I was just trying to be aggressive on both ends, defensively and offensively. As a team I think we played together tonight, and that's why we got a win."
Rui Hachimura (20 PTS, 13 REB) and Daniel Gafford (12 PTS, 4-4 FGM, 5 BLK) come up BIG for the @WashWizards to keep their season going! #NBAPlayoffs— NBA (@NBA) June 1, 2021
Game 5 Wed, 7pm/et, NBA TV pic.twitter.com/74CNgq6h5p
Getting contributions from players beyond the star back-court of Beal and Russell Westbrook is critical to the Wizards' chances, and Hachimura was the player who stepped up for Washington's first win in the series.
After logging 27 and 26 minutes the previous two games, he played 41 Monday, making himself indispensable on both ends of the court.
"For me, we always just want him to be aggressive and accept his challenges on the defensive end," Beal said. "That's when he has a good game, when he's locked in on defence, he's guarding somebody, he's making it tough on them, he's guarding Ben [Simmons], making it tough on him.
"Then he rebounded the ball really well tonight, too. I think him just being engaged in all facets of the game kind of propelled him on the offensive end and boosted his confidence. Once he seen one [shot] go in, he was making them all night."
The key going forward is for Hachimura to play this way more consistently, but his coach liked what he saw in Game 4.
"We're all trying to figure things out, with Rui and with everybody," Brooks said. "This has been a season of figuring it out on the fly at times, but when Rui gets that gear, that's what we need.
"He's had it, it's been choppy at times through some of his unfortunate injuries and safety protocol. He seems to ramp up and then something unfortunate takes place. But he's in a good place."