Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has delivered his signature performance of the postseason in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
MORE: Lakers hold off Heat, grab 3-1 series lead
As you'd expect, LeBron James and Anthony Davis made a number of big plays down the stretch of the Los Angeles Lakers close win over the Miami Heat but this series could very well be tied at two games apiece if it weren't for the contributions of Caldwell-Pope.
After finishing with just five points (on 1-for-5 shooting) and one assist in Game 3, Caldwell-Pope came out on a mission in Game 4. He assisted on the Lakers first bucket of the game and then scored the team's next eight points, surpassing his point total from Game 3 in the first five minutes of Game 4; he finished the opening frame with 10 points (on 4-for-6 shooting) and two assists in just 10 minutes of play. It was a night-and-day turn around from his effort in the prior game.
Despite not scoring in the second quarter, KCP entered the half with a team-high 10 points, which were crucial given the Lakers clung to a two-point lead at the break.
As LeBron and AD took over in the third, Caldwell-Pope didn't even attempt a shot in his 10 minutes on the floor. He did, however, dish out another two assists; one leading to a triple from Markieff Morris, the other resulting in a 3 from Anthony Davis.
But Caldwell-Pope's biggest moments came when it mattered most.
Let's set the scene:
Approaching the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Miami won't go away. The Lakers lead 90-88 but can't seem to create enough distance to feel comfortable against a gritty Heat squad. Nearly 33 minutes of game time had elapsed since KCP last scored a bucket and it appeared that his hot start was just that and nothing more.
Then he delivered his two biggest moments of the game:
KCP with back-to-back big buckets for the Lakers!@Lakers 95@MiamiHEAT 91- NBA (@NBA) October 7, 2020
1:37 to play on ABC pic.twitter.com/E3QsEp077V
Just like that, Los Angeles was up seven with under two minutes remaining as Laker nation let out a collective sigh.
After LA held on for a six-point win, LeBron praised Caldwell-Pope for his big moments late in Game 4: "Whoever is out on the floor with me, I believe can make plays, and tonight was a case in point of KCP. Stays ready. He works on his craft.
"Like you said, that 3 in front of their bench was a huge 3, and obviously the drive at the end of the shot clock was two big back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter, where we needed to continue to score versus this team."
Head coach Frank Vogel lauded Caldwell-Pope for having a big bounce-back performance and essentially echoed LeBron's sentiment, saying "KCP down the stretch - big guts to take the shots that he took - and it was a huge five points, obviously."
Caldwell-Pope, who is tied for the longest-tenured Laker alongside Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma, has been the subject of much scrutiny during his three years in Los Angeles. KCP, who is represented by the same agency as LeBron in Klutch Sports, signed a one-year deal worth $18 million with LA in 2017.
He would then sign a one-year deal worth $12 million in 2018 and just last offseason signed a two-year deal worth just under $17 million.
But was it all worth it?
Through the first 10 games in the 2019-20 season, KCP was shooting a meagre 23.8% from beyond the arc, causing many Laker faithful to write him off given LA's financial commitment to him over the past three years. He would bounce back to shoot a shade under 40% from deep for the remainder of the season but the narrative of his being overpaid had seemingly been decided already.
But KCP continued to perform. In fact, Caldwell-Pope's performance has often been a barometer for LA's success.
According to NBA.com Stats, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.8 points while shooting 40.4% from 3 in the Lakers' 51 regular-season wins. In their 18 losses? His scoring average dipped to 7.9 points and his 3-point shooting percentage fell to 32.4%.
The playoffs have been no different - in fact, the contrast is even more stark: KCP is averaging 11.3 points on 41.9% 3-point shooting in LA's 15 wins and is averaging just 5.8 points on 22.2% 3-point shooting in the team's four losses. And while there have been a number of ups and downs for this postseason, KCP has etched his place in Lakers lore with his defence and shooting.
After going 3-for-8 from deep in Game 4, KCP has now hit 40 3-pointers this postseason, tied with Kobe Bryant for the second-most 3s made by a Laker in a single postseason. Bryant also holds the record with 49 triples during LA's title run in 2010.
Bryant's record may be out of reach but the Larry O'Brien Trophy is in sight, and the Lakers might not be in position to hoist it without Caldwell-Pope.
As for the scrutiny and the ups and downs during KCP's time in LA, him having such a big hand in title No. 17 would be poetic justice.
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