There were several question marks about the Los Angeles Lakers heading into the Play-In Tournament despite ending the 2020-21 regular season on a five-game winning streak.
The Lakers were decimated by injuries and had little time to get all their players acclimated before the playoffs began, which led many to believe they could possibly falter against a hot Golden State Warriors team. However, Los Angeles showed their mettle and pulled out a thrilling 103-100 victory over Golden State, securing their spot in the postseason.
Alex Caruso was one of the key players for the Lakers in their win as the guard played his normal brand of tough-nosed defense and made winning plays down the stretch. Caruso is a player head coach Frank Vogel does not need to worry about and it is easy to see why given his attitude toward the team and the game of basketball in general.
I’m really just trying to win another championship, man,” Caruso said. “I don’t think too big picture until it’s over with. Just love playing basketball. We got a good a** team like I told you a couple of weeks ago and I’m just competitive. I like to play basketball. The energy in the stadium was great tonight with the fans back having people sit courtside. Fans cheering at timeouts. I kind of felt that energy. I was a little anxious before the national anthem because I was so juiced up. I was ready to go. The atmosphere was great, so I kind of calmed myself down, but then obviously came out and played well.
“I think it’s just part of my progression. I’m going to keep trying to get better, better and better. Being aggressive to score and a lot of times it will set up my pass and opportunities for my teammates. I don’t really think too much big picture. … I’m really just trying to win 16 more games.”
As far as their Play-In Game against the Warriors goes, Caruso looked at the matchup as a positive given the lack of reps in high-pressure situations the team has had.
“Honestly, having a Play-In Game might be a blessing in disguise for us just because it’s an opportunity for us. I’m tentative to say this, but it wasn’t a win-or-go-home game. We treated it like that, but at the end of the day, if we lost, we would’ve had another game to play in.
“Just being able to go through this experience where it’s basically a do-or-die game and having the new guys feel that mentality. Playing every possession like it’s your last. Being locked in of the ups and downs of the game. Answering back to other team’s runs. Stuff that takes championship DNA and championship mindsets to win. It’s good for them to get their toes wet in that and kind of experience that with us as a team. I think it’s going to be good for us going forward.”
It was a momentous win for the Purple and Gold because it showed both themselves and the fans that they are able to overcome early game struggles and pull out what looked to be an improbable victory over a good Warriors squad. In a game that had real stakes in it, the Lakers proved they are able to call upon their extra gear and be the team many expected them to be before the season began.”
Caruso noted before the Play-In Tournament began that champions do not make excuses, and it will be interesting to see if he and the rest of the Lakers can make do on their promise to raise another banner in Staples Center.
Caruso on staying aggressive offensively
Defense will always be Caruso’s calling card as an NBA player, but offensively he was a factor in the team’s win against Golden State. The guard scored 14 points, leading them in scoring in the first half with the team’s stars struggling, and chalked up his aggressiveness to taking what the defense gave him.
“I was just trying to be aggressive to score because I think they were playing not in a disrespectful way, but they weren’t playing me and they weren’t playing some of our guards. They were so worried about AD. I got a couple layups in transition I think. An open three on a kick out that I knew I was going to have and then just shot ready in the corner on the other one. Just doing what I do being opportunistic. The other one could’ve been an and-one opportunity. It’s the playoffs. Everything is a lot more physical. Everything is going to be a little more touch and go.
“Fortunate to be whatever it was four-for-four or five-for-five, especially when we weren’t playing great offensively in the first half.”
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