The basketball had settled through the nets as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope backpedaled down court, his shooting right hand held high with three fingers in the air, the signal to his Lakers teammates that his three-pointer was good again.
Caldwell-Pope had broken out of his shooting funk in Game 2 of the NBA playoffs, and he was expressing his joy for all of his shots that had finally started going in after he had missed every one taken in the first game.
He had become that third option the Lakers so desperately need to support the brilliance of Anthony Davis and LeBron James, and Caldwell-Pope’s 16 points were a big part of the Lakers’ 111-88 rout of the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.
Caldwell-Pope produced his big night in 22 minutes, never stepping on the court in the fourth quarter in the best-of-seven first-round Western Conference playoffs series that is tied at 1-1.
He was five for eight from the field, four for six from three-point range. That led Caldwell-Pope to posting a plus-24 in the plus-minus department.
He made his first two three-pointers in the first quarter, two nice strokes, two confidence boosters.
“It felt good,” Caldwell-Pope said about his first made three-pointer. “Once I seen it go in, I was just ready to shoot whenever I was open. Really just took what the defense gave me and took my time and knocked down the shots.”
In Game 1 on Tuesday night, Caldwell-Pope had missed all nine of his shots, five of them three-pointers, leading to the starting guard scoring just one point.
In the six seeding games in the bubble Caldwell-Pope had played in, he was shooting 41.5% from the field and a dismal 27.8% from three-point range.
He was averaging just 7.3 points in the seeding games and a minus-9.8.
So, yes, Caldwell-Pope had to get his mental right.
“I was really just trying to forget Game 1,” he said. “I know I shot the ball terrible — I wouldn’t even say bad. It was a terrible game for me. I just tried to forget about that and not carry it to Game 2, have my mind clear and ready to play and knock down shots when I’m open. I’m a shooter and shooters shoot. So, I just came out with the mind-set that I was just going to knock down shots.”
When he got the pass from James (10 points, six rebounds, seven assists) and hit that three-pointer in the third quarter and raised his fingers, Caldwell-Pope heard it from teammates.
“Yeah!” James yelled after Caldwell-Pope’s basket. “Yeah!”
Caldwell-Pope also played solid defense against Portland’s dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum, and he took his turn defending both throughout the game.
Lillard had just 18 points on six-for-14 shooting and McCollum had 13 on six-for-16 shooting.
“Just continue to put pressure on them guys,” Caldwell-Pope said. “They are two great players in the backcourt. We just got to continue to try to keep pressure on them, try to get the ball out of their hands as much as possible.”
Turner reported from Los Angeles.