His hustle and defense in the final 12 minutes are what allowed the Lakers to stick with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for so long against the Orlando Magic on Sunday afternoon.
Lakers coach Luke Walton noted how Caldwell-Pope was “flying around” on defense in the fourth quarter, making up for a poor shooting night and showing that he could be more than an offensive threat in his role off the bench.
It’s not often that Caldwell-Pope is in the game with the closing lineup, but his determination is why Walton stayed with the 6-foot-5 guard for 11 minutes, 23 seconds in the fourth.
“I know he wasn’t making a lot of shots, but he had just hit a big three,” Walton said about Caldwell-Pope’s inspired fourth-quarter play. “And defensively, he was flying around and fighting over screens and coming up with loose balls.”
Caldwell-Pope’s shot betrayed him all game, his one-for-seven shooting leaving him shaking his head at times. He missed three of his four three-pointers, each miss more painful than the previous.
He kept shooting the ball, however, even going one-for-five from the field in the fourth, one-for-three from three-point range.
“KCP is one of our best shooters,” Walton said.
The only shot Caldwell-Pope made in the fourth quarter was a three-pointer, and that pulled the Lakers to within 104-102 with 3:03 left.
Still, that didn’t stop Caldwell-Pope from playing hard, from giving his all in a game in which the Lakers were desperately trying to make a comeback from 16 points down in the third quarter, 14 in the fourth quarter.
With the score tied at 104-104 in the fourth, Caldwell-Pope dived on the floor for a loose ball, getting the steal for the Lakers with 1:09 left.
LeBron James missed a three-pointer after Caldwell-Pope’s hustle, but it showed how much effort he was putting into the game.
Then, with 18.4 seconds left and the Lakers down 106-104 after Terrance Ross had scored for the Magic, Caldwell-Pope got an open look for a three-pointer.
He missed, his final shot of the game off the mark again.
Caldwell-Pope wasn’t around after the Lakers’ 108-104 loss to talk about his five steals, four in the fourth quarter.
He also blocked one shot, had one assist and was a plus-six in the plus-minus category.
Caldwell-Pope played 27:16, his minutes in the fourth quarter the most significant.
He had been on the court in the fourth quarter with the Lakers’ small-ball lineup of rookie Svi Mykhailiuk, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram.
Walton was hoping that group could give the Lakers a spark at a time when they seemingly had none.
“Well, they are versatile and they can guard a lot of players,” Walton said about that fivesome. “We were going to stay small as long as [Magic center Nikola] Vucevic was not on the floor.