Alex Caruso continues to deliver for Lakers in key moments
His story is still being written, but the words so far describe how resilient Alex Caruso has been and how he has evolved into a key source for the Lakers.
Caruso has grown every step of the way, advancing further during the Lakers’ 117-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night, a win that put Los Angeles back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
He was simply solid in his role in the series-clinching Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, delivering 11 points, four assists, two rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and a plus-16 in the plus/minus category at AdventHealth Arena in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Caruso is four wins away from winning his first NBA championship. The Lakers will meet the winner of the Boston-Miami series in the Eastern Conference. If the Heat eliminates the Celtics on Monday, the NBA Finals begin Wednesday. If Boston forces a deciding Game 7 on Wednesday, the Finals start Friday.
“It’s been a hell of a journey for this year for this team,” Caruso said in a videoconference call. “And then me individually, just the journey I’ve been on my whole life to just kind of get to this point. It’s really cool. I don’t know how to state it other than that, man. It’s just super cool for me to be able to have this experience and play meaningful minutes, to play well and be on the court with LeBron [James] scoring  points [in the fourth] to close out the game. It’s big-time moments. It’s a blessing to play basketball, man.”
The Lakers had enough faith in Caruso to have him on the court the entire 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, when the game hung in the balance before James took over and dominated.
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Following a decade that included six years of wandering outside the playoffs, the Lakers have finally returned home with a berth in the NBA Finals.
But Caruso didn’t back down from the moment either.
His assist to Kyle Kuzma opened the scoring in the fourth quarter, giving the Lakers a six-point lead
Then Caruso made another heady play later in the fourth, taking a pass from James on the wing and not rushing a shot. Instead, Caruso passed the ball to Anthony Davis, who knocked down a three-pointer for a 10-point lead that had the Lakers celebrating.
“I think Alex Caruso is a true definition of when opportunity meets preparation,” said James, who produced a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. “He’s been preparing for this moment for a long time and he just needed opportunity. [Former Lakers coach] Luke [Walton] gave him an opportunity last year, and now Coach [Frank] Vogel and our coaching staff are giving him an opportunity on a bigger stage. He’s just taking full advantage of that and just full stride. He’s just gotten better and better every single minute he’s on the floor. He’s still learning. Every game is still a learning experience for him because he’s so new to the NBA.
“He played a lot of his minutes over the course of his early stages in the G League. But first time I saw him, and seeing him in some of our practices, it wasn’t the sneaky athleticism. It was the way that he defended and how cerebral he played the game. I gravitate toward players like that right away, because the game, everybody talks about the physical side and how high you can jump and how fast you can run and all those things. But the mental side is what gets you to the next level. You know, I saw that from A.C., and he continues to learn. He’s just been great for us.”
Caruso’s journey to the NBA Finals began with him playing for the South Bay Lakers, the Lakers’ developmental league team.
He appeared in just 62 games with the Lakers over two seasons, finally working his way into becoming a key rotation player this season. He had gone undrafted out of Texas A&M but signed a two-way contract with the Lakers in 2017 and was re-signed by the team for two years on July 7, 2019.
“It’s been the story of my career,” Caruso said. “No matter what level I’m at, the more time I have on the court, the better I’ve gotten. And that’s kind of been the whole thing. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity. … Anytime I can get out there on the court, I get better. I learn the game, I learn the speed, I learn the different movements, and I’m a smart player. So, I get used to it. I know what I can take advantage of to be useful.”
He made his first four shots in the first quarter and blocked a layup by Jamal Murray.
Caruso switched to Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during the second quarter and took a charge on the 7-footer, his third foul in the first half, forcing him to the bench.
By the end of a game in which he played 25 minutes and 39 seconds, Caruso had proved his worth.
“I just tried to be aggressive, get to the paint, create for our team, and then a lot of guys don’t step up and they are trying to stay home,” Caruso said. “I’m a 6-5, pretty athletic wing, point guard, and I can go up and hit layups. … It’s just about getting there and being aggressive and taking advantage of the opportunities.”
Lakers forward Anthony Davis makes key plays in Saturday night’s clinching win over the Denver Nuggets and finally reaches the NBA’s biggest stage.
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