The Los Angeles Lakers have notched two dominant series victories in the 2020 NBA Playoffs and on both occasions their strong defense was the common denominator.
L.A. first stopped the Portland Trail Blazers, who were the hottest offense of the Orlando bubble in the seeding portion of the NBA restart. And they dispatched the Houston Rockets, beating them at small-ball and effectively neutralizing their two biggest stars in James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers have been vocal about their defense-first attitude. There has been constant debate over who the Lakers’ third star is behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and head coach Frank Vogel pointed to the defense as essentially being just that.
“It’s as powerful as a superstar,” he said. “If you have an elite defense, that can be your third star, so to speak. When you have the confidence that you can go four, five, or six possessions of squeezing the other team’s offense and getting stops.”
Lakers guard Alex Caruso echoed Vogel’s praise for the team’s defense. He emphasized its diversity that allows L.A. to adjust their game to different opponents which has been crucial to their success this postseason. “We just do a really good job of following a game plan,” he said.
“I think that’s probably our strongest asset, is we have five guys no matter who is out there that can think and play at the same time. When you do that, you’re on time for your coverages, on time for your help, you’re taking away a guy’s strong hand and doing the little things that we’ve schemed for.”
Caruso ‘more aggressive’ in playoffs
Caruso has flourished in the first playoffs appearance of his career, helping the Lakers particularly during the Rockets series. The versatile guard, known for his defensive contribution, helped L.A. on offense by averaging 8.4 points and shooting a much-improved 35.3% from deep.
Caruso’s moment of the postseason came in Game 4 when he made a crucial 3-pointer to stop Houston’s run and secure the win. The guard believes he is reaping benefits of his increased aggression on the court.
“It put a little more responsibility on my shoulders and helped pushed myself to a point where I was just out there playing rather than thinking about what I should be doing,” Caruso explained.
“I think just continuing to be the competitive and aggressive self that I am, and just limit my mistakes.”
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