The Los Angeles Lakers — especially LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder — had one of their worst halves of the season in the opening 24 minutes of the Play-In Tournament game against the Golden State Warriors. Even Frank Vogel struggled with his rotations, failing to play guys who made instant impacts in the second half.
Perhaps the only Laker who played well in both halves was Alex Caruso. As is always the case with Caruso, his immense impact did not manifest in the box score. He finished with 14 points, three rebounds, two assists and three steals — hardly a bad performance — but the way he played throughout the game essentially saved the Lakers from a loss.
Vogel was incredibly happy with Caruso’s output on offense and defense, praising him for winning plays. “He was awesome all night long,” Vogel emphasized. “When we were struggling offensively, he was five-for-five in the first half. Making plays, making shots. Defending his tail off and obviously made huge plays down the stretch on both sides of the ball in the second half as well. He’s a champion. He’s one of those guys that just moves the needle correctly and immediately and he had a great performance tonight.”
James, who struggled offensively in the first half, also loved what he saw out of Caruso. “His attention to detail. Very smart. Know what he want to do. Always in the right place in the right time. He just makes plays. Some of them show up in the box score, some of them didn’t, but tonight they definitely showed up in the box score. He pretty much carried us in the first half offensively and we just had to match him in the second half.”
The Play-In Tournament game was a perfect encapsulation of who Caruso is at his best. He can adapt to whatever the team needs him to be, making winning plays left and right. It was arguably his best performance of the season and it could not have come at a better time.
In the postseason, the Lakers are going to need Caruso to be at this level, especially against teams with All-Star caliber point guards like the Phoenix Suns. After the must-win game on Wednesday, it appears he’s ready for the task.
Caruso says Play-In Tournament was a blessing in disguise
Avoiding the Play-In Game altogether could have given the Lakers a full week off. However, Caruso explained why it may have been beneficial to play. “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.”
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