There was a moment on last night’s ESPN broadcast of the Warriors-Lakers play-in game where Mark Jackson read out the statlines of the Lakers’ alleged “Big Three,” a group composed of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and, uhhh, Dennis Schröder. Shoehorning a role player who ended a win with a game-worst -20 into any Big Three schematic is silly on its face, though in the Lakers’ case, the obvious wrongness of the framework is somewhat telling of their top-heaviness. There can’t be a Big Three on this team by its very construction, as the rest of the roster is explicitly built to orbit around the all-around greatness of their two leaders. Schröder et al. are there because of the ways they complement and support James and Davis, and last night, the third player that proved most critical to the win was not Schröder, but his backup, Alex Caruso.
As for Caruso’s supporting tasks: guard the opposing ballhandler, serve as a secondary playmaker, and hit open shots, should they fall his way. He spent the first half excelling in the latter category, scoring 12 of his first 14 in a half where he seemed to be the only Laker playing with the correct sense of urgency against the greatest shooter of all time. Caruso is not much of an out-and-out scorer like Schröder is, and he correctly pointed out that Davis deserved as much credit as he did for his dozen.
Once James and Davis settled in during the second half, Caruso stepped back. He was thrown at Steph Curry, which can really only go so well for any defender, and though he got burnt a few times, he spent the fourth quarter making plays. Both Curry and the Warriors had their lowest point totals in the final frame, which is obviously not all on Caruso, though he was making himself a real pest.
But this is all prelude to his biggest moment, which was clunking an open three off the side of the backboard. It is very tempting to lapse into rhapsodic coach-speak about not giving up or getting down after a bad play here, since Caruso came up huge on every single possession after his big miss. He immediately manufactured a turnover by swiping at a Curry crossover, then made three critical plays on the offensive end before coming up with stops on the biggest two possessions of the game.
None of this remotely qualifies him for Big Three-hood, though it was a very promising sign for the Lakers. James and Davis are still, obviously, the show, but they’ll have a tougher road than usual back to the Finals since both guys were hurt for big stretches of the season, and LeBron is only just now healthy. Repeating as champs will necessarily require the Lakers’ bench stepping up, just like Caruso did last night.