The Los Angeles Lakers dominated the Houston Rockets in Game 4, moving to just one victory from making the Western Conference Finals. And while Anthony Davis and LeBron James were the main architects behind the 110-100 victory as expected, Alex Caruso emerged as the unlikely hero and sank the game-deciding 3-pointer to cap off his impressive night.
The versatile guard scored 16 points, shooting 55.6% from the field and 40% from deep. And Caruso delivered when the Lakers needed him the most.
The Texas A&M product’s crunch-time trey was invaluable as it ended Houston’s 22-4 run in the fourth quarter that trimmed L.A.’s 23-point lead to just five with 58 seconds left.
One could say it was the most important play of Caruso’s career and a defining moment for his fascinating transition from an undrafted two-way player to a key roster piece on a championship team.
“I don’t even know if you can explain it,” James, who assisted Caruso on the key play in Game 4, said of his teammate’s rise. “The fact that we have so much confidence in A.C., a guy that played a lot of his time in the G League pretty much before this year.”
Caruso established himself as a difference-maker off the bench for L.A. before the four-month hiatus, recording absurd plus-minus numbers thanks to his defensive hustle and vigor. But he has seen his role extended in the aftermath of Avery Bradley’s decision to opt out of the NBA restart and had to take on more responsibilities on offense.
That initially brought mixed results. Over the eight seeding games, the guard shot a dreadful 15.4% from downtown and averaged 5.5 points. But he stepped up in the series with Houston and has been averaging 9.3 points while converting 38.5% of his attempted 3s.
And James says he has taken note of Caruso’s progress and never doubted his ability to seal the Game 4 victory despite Houston’s pressure. “He’s a guy that we know we can count on, doesn’t make many mistakes on the floor and plays winning basketball,” James said.
“That’s just who he is. To have him in the crunch time, I didn’t have one-second guess if I was going to hit him in that corner when I saw he had a little bit of space. He knows I have the confidence in him to knock it down.”
James lauds Lakers role players
The Lakers continue to impress with the depth of their roster this postseason. Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo have all put in vital shifts off the bench this series — with the former starting Game 4 in JaVale McGee’s place.
Meanwhile, rookie Talen Horton-Tucker made a surprise playoff debut on Thursday and fared beyond expectations, scoring five points and registering two steals in seven minutes. “This is A.C.’s first playoff run, this is Kuz’s first playoff run,” James said after Game 4.
“We got [Talen Horton-Tucker] in the game and he was huge in his first stint in the postseason. And we want to continue to grow every single day; I thought A.C. grew today. It’s still a learning experience for some of our guys but everyone works off me and A.D., and we just try to put them in position to be successful, and they try to do the same thing with us.”
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