LeBron James was dribbling the ball deep on the left wing, the Boston Celtics all keyed in on the Lakers superstar while his teammates waited for James to make the right play early in the fourth quarter. And James did, finding a cutting Alex Caruso in the teeth of Boston’s defense. And then Caruso also made the right play, throwing a quick pass to Montrezl Harrell for a dunk.
James and Lakers coach Frank Vogel had trusted their reserve squad of Harrell, Caruso, Kyle Kuzma. Talen Horton-Tucker during a significant part of Saturday’s game. And the reserves delivered, coming up big during the Lakers’ 96-95 win over the Celtics in Boston UFA.
“Yeah, I liked the energy that they had,” Vogel said on a videoconference. “I mean, Alex and Kuz and Talen and really Trez, all four of those guys are hard-playing dudes.”
After Anthony Davis had the ball stripped away by Boston’s Kemba Walker with 11.6 seconds remaining. And the Lakers clinging to a one-point lead, Caruso, standing in the corner, hustled back on defense, doing all he could to stop the Celtics on the fastbreak with Jaylen Brown streaking down the court.
Walker threw a pass to Brown, but Caruso raced downcourt and got in front of Brown with about eight seconds left. Forcing him to pass the ball to Semi Ojeleye, who then passed the ball to Walker.
Now Dennis Schroder was back on defense as well, forcing Walker to take a tough, 13-foot, step-back jump shot with 2.7 seconds left that he missed. Daniel Theis try to follow up the shot while being screen out by Harrell. The ball didn’t go in as time expired.
The Lakers’ defense had come through, and it all started. Because of Caruso’s all-out effort as the game hung in the balance.
“Thought I was going to get the steal. Was nervous about reaching in and fouling and putting them to the line since they were in the bonus. So, I kind of backed off and got a stop at the end and won the game.”
The Lakers were down seven at the end of the third quarter, and Vogel put Harrell, Kuzma, Caruso and Horton-Tucker in the game with James.
It worked out well for the Lakers.
Harrell led the reserves with 16 points on eight-for-10 shooting and five rebounds in 30 minutes. Kuzma had 11 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes, Horton-Tucker six points in 23 minutes and Caruso two points in 20 minutes.
Because that foursome played so well and so many minutes, Vogel went with just a nine-man rotation. Which left reserves Markieff Morris and Wesley Matthews with no playing time.