Anyone watching the 2015 NBA Finals with a keen eye immediately realized the approach a banged up Cleveland Cavaliers team had chosen to take against the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. Minus two elite offensive players from what was already a top-heavy roster, the Cavs knew getting into a track meet with the Warriors would mean certain demise – they simply didn’t have the talent to trade haymakers in an up-and-down game with a team that thrives in that ecosystem.
They went in the opposite direction instead, dragging every possession out with tactics that both muted Golden State’s advantages in the open court and allowed guys like LeBron James and Matthew Dellavedova to rest between moments of exertion even while on the court. They succumbed to a more talented group in the end, but left the impression that they were much more competitive in the series than most had expected.
Seeing it was one thing, but a few less publicized numbers illustrate the near-insane degree to which the Cavs went to muck the game up. Most would look to standard pace statistics for guidance – simply, number of possessions per-48-minutes. This metric is a double-edged sword, though; there are two teams on the floor every game, and one may have very different goals and tendencies regarding the speed of their possessions. Instead, the discrepancy here can best be illustrated by isolated offensive and defensive time-of-possession statistics, generously housed on inpredictable.com.
The Cavaliers could do all they wanted to slow things down while they had the ball, but nothing could stop the Warriors from their usual ways once they were in control of the rock. Golden State’s average time of offensive possession was 13.5 seconds in the regular season, per inpredictable.com, fastest in the league – the Cavs only managed to get that down to 13.7 seconds in the Finals.
The other end of the spectrum, though, showed the big difference: Cleveland’s average time of possession on offense was a remarkable 17.2 seconds, a mark that would have led the NBA by a full second in the regular season (the entire league is separated by less than three seconds total, meaning this Cleveland number in the Finals was fantastically slow). The Cavs were taking decimals short of 20 seconds before their average shot on all possessions following made shots by the Warriors. Think about that. They took their average shot with four seconds left on the shot clock anytime their possession began following a make from the Dubs.
Personnel and circumstances beyond Golden State played a role, of course. The Cavs were similarly slow to initiate their offense for most of the postseason, especially their sweep of the Atlanta Hawks that featured some of the same lineup deficiencies. The playoffs also naturally slow things down a bit for many non-Warriors teams – take the Memphis Grizzlies, who initiated offense over a second slower than their regular season pace against the Portland Trail Blazers in round one and maintained this same rate in their eventual loss to the Dubs.
A previous year’s playoffs can often be a harbinger of things to come, though. The Cavaliers may not have triumphed through their tactics, but they appeared to at least marginally tighten what most figured was a pretty wide talent gap. And with a new season underway and the Warriors only looking more unbeatable, whispers have begun to spread around the league: Have conceptions regarding pace been slightly misplaced? And, more importantly, might zigging where Golden State has zagged be the best shot certain teams have at stalling a multi-year run of dominance from the Bay?
NBA strategy is a constant evolution. The game has changed an incredible amount over the last half decade in large part because the league as a whole has gotten hip to the smart inroads a select few teams were making. With tactical prowess at the highest premium we’ve ever seen, the holy grail is the next new innovation. The Warriors in their current form are the furthest we’ve seen that line of thinking applied in reality, a team that plays guys at positions general managers would have laughed at 10 years ago while using their unique personnel to exploit simple math (three is more than two!) on a historically large scale, something ESPN’s Zach Lowe discussed at length recently.
In the league’s rush to emulate what makes Golden State so special, though, many may have quite literally raced past the limits of their talent while simultaneously playing into the Warriors’ hands.
Some elements of “pace” have merits regardless of team context, of course, and were items of conversation long before this Warriors’ iteration came along. The Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns of the mid-2000s were among the pioneers of the modern game, illustrating how advantageous it can be to attack a defense still in the process of setting itself. These principles begat a collective understanding of the importance of transition play; regardless of personnel, it’s common knowledge in today’s game that pursuing obvious chances on the break for more efficient looks than nearly any halfcourt set could yield is a requirement for winning basketball.
This doesn’t necessarily equate to “the faster the better” in every circumstance, though. There are trade-offs inherent to this line of thinking that simply don’t benefit everyone. Every team should pursue obvious transition chances, but the trickle-down to faster shots and a near obsession in some circles with speed on offense isn’t so clear-cut.
“It’d be a mistake for us to try and emulate Golden State,” Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “In the sense that they’re unselfish, I think that’s the lesson [to take]… [But] we’re a very different team.
“In a philosophical sense, yes. But the way that we have to go about doing that is very, very different.”
Snyder’s Jazz are among the poster boys for a growing contrary line of thinking. They’re currently in their second straight year as the league’s slowest team by offensive time per possession (stats exclude Wednesday’s games), mostly by design. Utah’s best players don’t necessarily fit with a full-speed-ahead philosophy, and Snyder isn’t about to pigeonhole them into a style just to conform to a league trend.
The idea that slower teams are less efficient (and vice versa) may have been born of positive intentions, but doesn’t reflect reality. Three of the league’s 10 slowest groups by traditional pace statistics (Cleveland, New Orleans, Chicago) were also top-10 per-possession offenses last season – the same number of top-10 teams by pace that were nonetheless bottom-10 offenses. Some teams are stretching themselves thin trying to copy a speedier model, where others have realized that doing so could compromise their identity on both ends of the court.
To some reading tea leaves, this is more than push back against a trend: it’s a basis around which to build a roster that can neuter a Warriors team many fear won’t have a true peer to keep things competitive. Smart front offices haven’t forgotten the way the Cavs leveled the playing field last June, even if they didn’t have enough talent to get them over the top.
Monday night’s wild finish in Salt Lake City was another near miss, but was the latest example of the way a disciplined team can lower the sample over which the Warriors’ talent gap begins to show through. Their win over the Jazz was by far the fewest possessions played in a game featuring the Warriors this year, per basketball-reference.com, and it’s not a coincidence that it was also the closest the Dubs have come to actually losing. That Golden State won while shooting nearly 50 percent from deep and winning the rebounding battle handily (neither of which are certainties on a nightly basis, particularly the latter against a huge group like Utah) further showcased the effectiveness of the approach.
Just like the other end of the spectrum, not everyone has the personnel to play this way. Utah’s length and defensive prowess on the perimeter is relatively unique, at least among teams for whom those same guys can play viable and efficient offensive roles simultaneously. They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the league, a true necessity within this sort of grinding approach. Their discipline defensively, something Snyder has worked incredibly hard to institute, also isn’t commonplace.
They aren’t the only ones choosing the road less traveled, though. The San Antonio Spurs, long the innovator whom the rest of the pack follows, are moving in the same direction. They got bigger over the summer by pairing LaMarcus Aldridge with Tim Duncan (along with adding David West to their frontcourt), and have gone from middle of the pack last year to the league’s fourth-slowest team for isolated offensive pace as they’ve leaned more heavily on the post game offensively. They’ve long been known for punting the offensive glass in favor of transition defense, ranking bottom-10 for offensive rebound “chase percentage” each of the last two years the data was available, per Nylon Calculus. A combination of these factors and personnel has them first overall in the league defensively as they transition yet again into a new identity.
Others are in the same ballpark. The Cavs are sticking with what worked last year, again among the 10 slowest teams for offensive initiation. The Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors and Miami HEAT are all in a similar boat and finding success. Each of these five team, with the exception of Memphis, currently sits in the league’s top 10 for per-possession net rating.
The ideology may be even more logical as a head-on strategy if and when these teams encounter the defending champs. There’s rampant speculation that San Antonio’s seeming reversion back to the post-heavy days of old is aimed directly at countering the Dubs come playoff time, and while Utah’s own development is largely personnel-driven (much of which is from a previous regime), many consider their template the only one with a real shot to dethrone the Warriors even if their skill level isn’t where it needs to be yet.
It makes sense, right? Buster Douglas didn’t become a poster boy for upsets in all sports by going toe-to-toe and trading haymakers with Mike Tyson; he did it by dragging things out and putting Iron Mike in a situation in which he wasn’t comfortable. The Warriors have the personnel to virtually guarantee they’ll be the best at their brand of run-and-gun basketball for years to come, so why should teams with other strengths be in a rush to play them at their game? Why not slow things down, up the variance within a given game and shorten the field as much as possible?
There’s only so far this can go, of course. The shooting revolution in the NBA is very real, and supported by some very simple arithmetic that other factors can only bend so far. Reality might simply be that while an opposing style can close the gap, a good shooting night from the Dubs has no counter that’s strong enough to overcome it consistently in the current league. Teams have to try, though, and pace of play could be the next frontier.
Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage
Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.
Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.
“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.
But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.
“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.
“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.
“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”
Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.
“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.
“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”
It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.
“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.
“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.
“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.
“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”
“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”
Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.
“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.
“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.
“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”
Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.
Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all. Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.
“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”
Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.
There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.
Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.
“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.
“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”
Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.
“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.
“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.
“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”
Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.
At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.
“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.
“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”
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