LOS ANGELES—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was in that position because Los Angeles Lakers Coach Luke Walton trusted him to make free throws under pressure. But with 5.7 seconds left in the game Tuesday night, Caldwell-Pope missed both free throws after the Celtics intentionally fouled him.
Seconds later, he made up for it in the eyes of one teammate and helped the Lakers hang on to a 108-107 win over the Boston Celtics.
“KC made a big stop,” said Jordan Clarkson, referring to the game’s final play, when Celtics guard Marcus Smart missed a three-point shot. “Everybody’s going to look at the free throws, but he made a big stop on Marcus that forced him into a tough shot at the end of the game. He made it up on that end.”
Caldwell-Pope had left the locker room by the time Walton’s news conference finished, leaving behind a locker with a basketball in it that had the words “free throws” scrawled on it in black marker.
But his play in the final seconds of the game was a sequence that perfectly encapsulated where the Lakers are right now. They beat the Celtics despite missing 15 free throws as a team. With the win the Lakers are 18-29 while the Celtics fell to 34-14.
“The message right now is defense,” Walton said. “Everything is defense.”
Kyle Kuzma heated up in the fourth quarter. After scoring 11 points through the first three, he scored 17 in the fourth, including a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a late lead, making his first six consecutive shots. Kuzma contributed in other ways, too. The Lakers took a 90-89 lead with 6:40 remaining in the game, when Kuzma flipped the ball behind his back to Larry Nance Jr. for a dunk.
Kuzma notched his 15th 20-point game of the season.
Kyrie Irving scored 33 points for the Celtics, 12 of them in the fourth quarter.
“We were talking a little bit,” Kuzma said of Irving. “He’s a great competitor. I like playing against guys like that. Good chirping.”
Boston entered the game on a three-game losing streak, but also with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Boston threatened to pull away in the second quarter, building a lead of 14 points, but the Lakers scored six unanswered point at the end of the half to cut that lead to eight.
The Lakers’ continued their run after the break, scoring six points in a row to open the third quarter. They outscored the Celtics by 10 points in the third.
Facing their fourth consecutive loss, and just by pure necessity, the Celtics aimed at the Lakers’ biggest weakness — free throw shooting.
It almost worked.
The Lakers missed four free throws in the game’s final 20 seconds, after intentional fouls by the Celtics. Boston had the ball with 5.7 seconds left in the game and a one-point Lakers lead.
After the game, Walton congratulated the team on the win. But immediately afterward he scolded them for yet another poor free throw shooting performance.
“It all started on the defensive end, whether we knocked those free throws down or not — which is very important — we found another way to win,” Lakers forward Brandon Ingram said. “I think all five guys down on the basketball court did a really good job of helping each other.”