Los Angeles Lakers’ Alex Caruso stops Boston Celtics, saves team in final seconds

The latest chapter in the legendary rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics was marked by star power, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on one side and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the other. Still, the Lakers won 96-95 on Saturday, thanks in part to the hype surrounding role player Alex Caruso.

“One of the best defensive games of the year,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after Caruso saved Los Angeles by thwarting a golden opportunity for the Celtics.

Caruso was on the wing behind the three-point line when Kemba Walker blocked Davis with 10.8 seconds left, pushing the ball away from the big man as Davis entered the lane.

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Walker’s deflection sent Davis flying as he tried to retrieve the ball, but Walker hit the ball first, giving the Celtics a golden opportunity, trailing by one point and with a chance to win the game.

Even before Walker had possession of the ball, Caruso turned his body toward the basket on the other side of the court. As soon as Walker started to move the ball forward and pass to Brown, Caruso launched a dead sprint into the zone defense.

“As soon as the ball was in the air, whether we picked it up or not, I went back on defense because we had learned how to do it,” Caruso said afterward.

Caruso was able to reach Brown on the stroke of halftime when Walker made an interception pass and got the ball in front of Brown.

Not only did this defensive effort squander an uncontested goal for Brown, but by the time Brown took possession of the ball, Davis and Dennis Schroder were able to get back on defense.

“When you have a turnover, you want to react quickly and try to come back and rebuild the game. That’s exactly what we did,” James said. “It started with the AC coming back and we all formed a wall.

Brown took the ball, and Walker had no choice but to take a 12-footer. When Schroeder choked Walker on defense, the shot went awry with 2.7 seconds left on the clock. Daniel Theis’ goal attempt with 0.5 seconds left was also missed, and Los Angeles held on for the win.

Caruso said he went into the game defensively, “expecting the worst, hoping we would get the ball back and have a chance,” but it turned out much better.

“Be in the right place at the right time,” he said.

It was plays like Caruso’s that earned him a spot on the Lakers’ final team. When Vogel reduced his rotation from 11 to 9 one night, leaving Markieff Morris and Wesley Matthews on the bench for the entire game, the coach continued to have faith in Caruso.

It’s part of the character “Play harder than your opponent,” Vogel said. “Whose team defends better. “Whose team leads the ground offensively. Whose backswing is stronger defensively. The sprint-against-the-race mentality.”

The quarterback, a varsity quarterback who has become a fixture in the G-League, is the Lakers’ ninth-highest paid player, earning $2.75 million this season. But Caruso has proven he can play.

“He’s a smart player,” Mr. Davis said. “He’s not the highest paid or has all the credentials. A lot of people don’t know that. But he plays the right way. He ends up on defense, gets hit hard, hit hard.”

Although Caruso recorded just two points, three rebounds and an assist Saturday, his plus-minus in 20 minutes was his team’s best (plus-14).

Davis said Jared Dudley pointed out to him after Los Angeles’ loss to the Detroit Pistons on Thursday that Caruso had a plus-minus plus-29 in five losing games and had not been in the losing column in any of those games.

“I’m a very, very competitive guy, and the final is the most important thing,” Caruso said. “So the start, the points and the stats don’t really matter to me. I really want to win. The fourth quarter, the end of the game, is the time to win.

“Often, when I come out of a timeout, I just say this. “It’s time to win.” I go to a player and I say it out loud. I want everyone to shut up and tell me what’s going on. To me, that’s the best part of the game.”

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