Alex Caruso’s clutch three-pointer gives Lakers breathing room in Game 4 vs. Rockets
The Lakers had become careless, their once 23-point lead shrinking in the fourth quarter because of their lackluster effort, their minds seemingly adrift as the Houston Rockets made one last charge.
Throughout it all, Alex Caruso maintained his focus and calm, delivering perhaps the biggest shot of his three-year professional career, a three-pointer with 35.2 seconds remaining that helped to carry the Lakers to a 110-100 victory over the Rockets on Thursday night and that helped the Lakers take a 3-1 lead over Houston in the best-of-seven second-round series.
It was the final three points of his playoff career high of 16, points that proved the moment wasn’t too big for the 6-foot-5 guard playing in just his ninth postseason game of his career on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.
“I thought AC grew today,” LeBron James said on a videoconference call. “This was AC’s ninth playoff game and he’s growing and growing ever since the first playoff game to today.”
The Lakers led 99-76 with 7:53 remaining, a lead that looked secure until the Rockets got hot and sliced it to 105-100.
Holding onto a 23-point lead going into the fourth quarter, the Lakers struggle down the stretch before taking a 110-100 win and a 3-1 series lead.
Naturally, the Lakers put the basketball into the hands of James, who threw a bounce pass to Caruso in the corner for a dagger three-pointer that secured the game and gave the Lakers a 108-100 advantage.
“Honestly, I don’t think too much when I shoot,” Caruso said. “I just kind of get it and just natural body motion taking over. I’ve been practicing that shot, that corner three from Bron all year, just knowing that he makes the right decision in the heat of the game. There was a packed paint and I’m wide open in the corner. It’s just about me having the [nerve] to step in and take the shot and not be afraid to miss. That’s just who I am. The game’s on the line, I’m a competitor. I’m playing to win, so the ball comes to me, I’m going to be ready to go.”
He finished his night five for nine from the field, two for five from three-point range and four for four from the free-throw line. He had two blocks and one steal in 30 minutes.
Perhaps, Caruso was asked during his postgame session, this was the biggest shot in his lifetime.
“Naw, I hit a game-winner in AAU when I was 14 from like the opposite free-throw line,” Caruso said. “That was probably a harder shot than this one.”
Highlights from the Lakers’ 110-100 win over the Rockets in Game 4.
Caruso paused for about three seconds and then smiled.
“No, I’m joking with you,” Caruso said, laughing. “As far as importance, man, I don’t know. There’s still so many possessions late in the game. We don’t know if we win the game on that shot or not. But like I said, rain or shine, whether it goes in or not, I’m ready step up and shoot it. My teammates have confidence in me, my coaches have confidence in me. I’m out there for a reason.”
For James and the Lakers to have faith in Caruso at such a crucial time of the game showed how far he has come.
He went undrafted out of Texas A&M. But he eventually signed a two-way contract with the Lakers on July 13, 2017 and re-signed with them on July 7, 2019.
Still, Caruso spent most of his time playing for the South Bay Lakers, the Lakers’ NBA developmental league team.
He appeared in 62 games with the Lakers over two seasons before becoming a rotation player this season.
With the Lakers and Clippers each a win away from squaring off in the NBA playoffs, it’s time to embrace the impending showdown between the peaking rivals.
“I don’t even know if you can explain it,” James said. “The fact that we have so much confidence in AC, a guy that played a lot of his time in the G-League pretty much before this year. Last year, he got called up a couple of times, but a lot of the majority of his time was in the G-League. And for him now to be in this position, be on this platform where he’s playing meaningful, big-time minutes in the postseason for a team’s that competing for a championship, I think his confidence is growing and growing and growing.
“He’s a guy that we know that we can count on, doesn’t make many mistakes out on the floor and just plays winning basketball. That’s just who he is. To have him in in crunch time, I didn’t have one second-guess if I was going to hit him in that corner when I saw that he had a little bit of space and he knows I have the confidence in him to knock down it down. He shot it and made it, so it wasn’t a surprise to any of us.”
Turner reported from Los Angeles.
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