The Los Angeles Lakers found success during the 2019-20 season largely on the shoulders of their two superstars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, while they were criticized early on for their lack of a bench, they wound up being one of the deepest teams in the league, with players like Alex Caruso, Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris having defined roles they filled exceptionally well.
Caruso especially cemented his place as a quality role player, so much so that he found himself in the starting lineup of Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Starting in the Finals is already impressive given Caruso’s story, but it’s even better when considering it came on a team led by James and Davis.
Caruso was able to get to that point by earning James’ trust throughout the last two seasons that he is capable of being leaned on in big moments. When discussing James, Caruso cited a comeback win against the Chicago Bulls as a big moment in their relationship, via “The Old Man and the Three” podcast:
“I don’t even know if it was a certain game or a certain stretch of games, but I think he just realized that I was going to do my job, whatever it needed to be. If it was to bring the ball up, initiate the offense, or if it was to guard somebody on the other team, whether it was for 15 minutes or five minutes, however long. I think he just understood that I was going to do what I needed to do. And, you know, maybe the Chicago (Bulls) game this year for us.
“There was a road game where we played in Chicago and we kind of came out a little flat. Chicago hadn’t won many games yet, so you know the whole human nature where you go into a game and you might not be as excited to play or as attentive and ready to go. So we came out and we’re playing bad and we’re doing everything that you’re supposed to do a certain way, we’re doing it the wrong way.
“So we’re down like 15 or 16 going into the fourth and it was basically the bench unit: me, Kuz, Quinn Cook and Dwight, and we just made this huge comeback. We were playing defense and getting stops, sharing the ball. I think that was probably when LeBron, when it clicked for him. We finished the game with him, they came back in when we were down four and we ended up winning the game. I think that was probably the first instance where he started realizing that these guys, especially me, can get it done.”
In that win against the Bulls — the seventh game of the 2019-20 season — the Lakers trailed 85-67 late in the third quarter and were down 93-80 heading into the fourth. Led by a lineup of Howard, Kyle Kuzma, Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels and Caruso, L.A. needed just four minutes in the fourth quarter to grab the lead, ultimately winning the game 118-112.
Caruso wondered if Lakers could flip switch for postseason
After huge struggles during the eight seeding games, it was looking like the Lakers may not be in sync enough to fight for the championship. This was Caruso’s biggest worry despite all the positives about L.A.’s roster.
He said that he definitely had some anxiety as the playoffs neared about whether or not they would be able to turn it on when the lights were brightest, but then gained confidence as the team locked in.
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!