Alex Caruso hustles to make big plays for Lakers in win over Raptors

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Broderick Turner
·4 min read
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Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) drive past Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher (25) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Lakers guard Alex Caruso drives past Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher during the second half on Tuesday in Tampa, Fla. (Chris O'Meara / Associated Press)

Alex Caruso was sandwiched between Toronto’s Stanley Johnson and Malachi Flynn, the basketball in sight of the Lakers guard. Determined to get the ball, Caruso dived on the court and stole the basketball away from Johnson in the second quarter, the Lakers’ key reserve putting his hustle on full display.

But Caruso wasn’t done on the play. He had the presence of mind to look for a teammate who might be hustling as well. Caruso looked up and spotted a streaking Devontae Cacok, who rolled in for a layup off the pass from Caruso.

That was one of the two steals Caruso had, the other also a dive on the floor for the basketball later in the second quarter.

“That's what we ask of our entire team. We want to be first to 50/50 balls on the floor…Playing harder than our opponent every night,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said on a video call Tuesday night. “It's the No. 1 habit that you establish during the regular season, and it becomes instinctual as the playoffs come around. You don't have to flip the switch or elevate your play when you always play that hard.

“And Alex is just one of those guys that that's how he plays no matter what the situation is. That's why we love Alex. That's why Alex has helped us win the championship last year. So, it definitely elevates the group when you see a guy hustle and playing as hard as that.”

By halftime, Caruso had scored 12 points. He had missed just two of his six field-goal attempts, just one of his four three-point tries. He had four rebounds, two assists and those two steals.

He finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and those big-time steals.

“As far as diving on the floor for a loose ball, it’s kind of like every other thing that I do. I just try and anticipate the play — whether it’s a steal, rebound, assist or a shot,” Caruso said on a videoconference. “The one tonight I just realized I wasn’t going to be able to outrun — I think it was Malachi Flynn — so just had to realize jump on the floor, get the ball and make a play.”

As a team, the Lakers held the Raptors to 39.6% shooting, 15.2% from three-point range.

The Lakers practiced Monday in Tampa, Fla., the home for the Raptors this season during the pandemic.

Caruso said they “just tried to carry over from what we watched on film” from the loss to the Clippers on Sunday and apply more pressure on the Raptors.

“Just playing with a disposition, a team energy, a team will of getting stops, playing physical and sharing the ball,” Caruso said. “We came out [and] I thought we did a really good job of that to start the game and then carried it through for the win.”

On offense, Caruso had made his share of three-pointers for the Lakers , who shot 45% from three-point range.

“We’re just creating great shots,” Caruso said. “We got extra passes. We’re getting to the paint, spraying it out to open guys and depending on who is helping. We’re just making good decisions for our teammates and when you make plays for others, it’s a little easier to shoot it and usually they go in more.”

McLemore could be ready against Heat

The Lakers added guard Ben McLemore for the rest of the season Tuesday, the deal becoming official sometime during the first half of their win against the Raptors. McLemore is on track to be available when the Lakers play the Miami Heat on Thursday.

“He’s a guy that we had to know where he was at all times in that Houston series because he’s such an elite shooter,” Vogel said. “And like I said, we’re trying to win a championship up here and so as much firepower as we can get, as many weapons as we can get, we’re going to try to get.”

Andre Drummond is also probable to return to the court from his toe injury, giving them even more firepower.

UP NEXT

AT MIAMI

When: 4:30 PDT P.M. Thursday.

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, TNT; R: 710, 1330.

Update: The Heat have been one of the NBA’s streakiest teams in the last month, winning five in a row only to lose six straight before winning four in a row.

Times staff writer Dan Woike contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.