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.
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.
“We tried to go to small in Orlando, but he killed us when we were trying to come back there. He was punishing us again tonight. But we were going to stay small as long as he was on the bench. But once he got back into the game, we were going straight back to JaVale [McGee].”