It is hard to believe that Alex Caruso was an undrafted guard considering that he is not arguably the most important role player for a Los Angeles Lakers team chasing its 17th NBA championship.
Caruso’s defensive tenacity and penchant for making key plays has earned him a pivotal spot in head coach Frank Vogel’s rotation and he has not disappointed despite playing in his first playoffs.
The guard has had the unenviable task of defending stars like Damian Lillard and James Harden but he more than held his own in tough matchups that swayed series in the Lakers’ favor.
While it is unfortunate that Caruso and his teammates are unable to enjoy their postseason run in front of the fans at Staples Center, he still feels the high stakes nature of the playoffs in the bubble. “It’s been a little different,” Caruso admitted.
“I was really looking forward to playing in the atmosphere of Staples Center and all these other arenas with the fans and having the intensity of the playoffs be exactly what I’ve seen on TV growing up. But you can still feel it.
“When the ball goes up and you’re out there playing, the energy of the game, the do or die mentality, and the sense of urgency is still there. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of. That’s kind of how I always play basketball. Obviously the stakes aren’t always as high as this, but it’s nice to have something to play for and have this group of guys to be able to go after the goal with.”
Having the Western Conference Finals at Staples Center would have made for an electric atmosphere that would have surely boosted the odds in the Lakers favor, but they seemingly adapted to the Orlando environment and are back to playing their brand of basketball.
Their performance against the Houston Rockets was particularly encouraging given how they absolutely dominated the latter portions of the series. L.A. sustained that momentum in the Conference Finals, dispatching of the Denver Nuggets in a five-game series.
Through his play in the bubble, Caruso has earned the confidence of his teammates and coaches and will be a key piece for the Lakers as they now are four wins from a title.
Caruso embracing more minutes
When Avery Bradley opted out of the NBA restart, Caruso figured to be relied on even more, and so far he has outperformed expectations.
Caruso’s calling card is defense but he has also looked comfortable handling the ball, something the team desperately needed when LeBron James is off the floor. Because of his production, Vogel has awarded him more playing time and he has taken it in stride.
“Six minutes in the playoffs is more than six minutes in a regular season game, just from intensity, schemes and having to play every possession like it’s the last one” Caruso said. “It’s been fun for me, though.
“I say I’m not tired, but I obviously get tired in the game, having to guard great players and playing as hard as we do as a unit, but I’m loving it. I play basketball for a living, so if you allow me to play more basketball, I’m only going to be happier.”
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