Role players are imperative to a team’s championship run.
Enter Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The least heralded member of Los Angeles’ starting unit came up big on Tuesday night, as his 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting helped the Lakers secure a 102-96 victory in Game 4 against the Miami Heat.
But to understand how unlikely it was that Caldwell-Pope played such a significant role in Game 4, you first have to realize that we’re talking about a guy who was in jail just a few years ago and was playing in NBA games while wearing an ankle monitor and taking frequent Breathalyzer tests.
“It has been very disappointing to me as well, as far as my teammates, I feel like I let them down as well my coaches, the organization,” Caldwell-Pope said back in 2017 about the situation. “I just have to deal with this legal situation that came with it.”
Caldwell-Pope had to serve a 25-day jail sentence due to a probation violation he committed when he didn’t comply with a drug and alcohol screening order from a Michigan court. He did his bid at the Seal Beach Police Department Detention Center in California and was only allowed to leave for practices and games. And since he couldn’t leave the state, he missed road games against the Rockets and Timberwolves.
“This is a legal matter, stemming from an incident that occurred last season while Kentavious was a member of another NBA team,” read a statement the Lakers released back then. “The Los Angeles Lakers are abiding by the terms of a program for Kentavious that were established for him by a court in the state of Michigan. As such, we will have no further comment at this time.”
After scoring 13 points in Game 1 and 11 in Game 2, Caldwell-Pope was held to 5 in Game 3. His 15 points on Tuesday night were reminiscent of when he averaged that many points per game in the 2015-2016 playoffs when he was a member of the Detroit Pistons.
Despite LeBron James’ 28-point,12-rebound, 8-assist performance, the Lakers wouldn’t have won without Caldwell-Pope. He led the way in the first quarter with 10 points, and his 5-point spurt late in the fourth helped the Lakers pull away.
“Whoever is out on the floor with me I believe can make plays. And tonight was a case-and-point with KCP,” said James about Caldwell-Pope. “He stays ready and works on his craft. That theee in front of their bench was a huge three. And obviously the drive at the end of the shot clock were two big back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter when we needed to continue to score versus this team.”
Ironically, James now has a 3-1 lead in the Finals.
You can bet that the man that led the only 3-1 comeback in Finals history is not going to take his foot off the pedal, especially since the Lakers have only blown a 3-1 lead once in franchise history. James was awful in the first half on Tuesday. He was held to 8 points, had 5 turnovers, was missing layups and was complaining to the refs. But still, the Lakers had a 49-47 lead at the half. James redeemed himself in the second half by scoring 20 of his game-high 28 points in the final two quarters, and only committed one turnover.
“First of all, I just want to thank God for me being in this position,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game.
Three years after playing basketball while wearing a bracelet, KCP is one win away from getting a ring. And if that isn’t something to be thankful for, then I don’t know what is.