The Lakers tried out a new, smaller starting lineup against the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, and whether it was that or their still-suffocating defensive intensity (or both), they absolutely sucked the life out of the Houston Rockets for almost all of a 110-100 win that gave them a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Rockets went on a run to cut a 23 point lead to 5 points in the fourth and make things a lot closer than they should have been by the end of the game as the Lakers eased off the gas, but for much of the night, this game was reminiscent of Game 4 of the first round against Portland, when the Trail Blazers looked like their souls had been crushed.
The Rockets had similar body language for much of Thursday, so while there may be at least one more game left in this series, it’s hard to believe that the Lakers haven’t shown themselves to be the superior team at this point. They just need to hope they didn’t just give Houston a spark of life, and make sure that they lock in for all 48 minutes next time, because — as they saw tonight — this Rockets team can get hot in a hurry.
If someone just looked at the box score, they might not be able to tell that this was the game where the Lakers went small. L.A. absolutely dominated on the offensive and defensive glass, grabbing 26 more rebounds than the Rockets in this game. Anthony Davis (12 rebounds) and LeBron James (15) were keys to that stat, with the two stars taking on the challenge to make sure that this smaller unit didn’t give an inch on the boards. Davis also added 29 points and 2 blocks, while James chipped in 16 points and 9 assists.
But this wasn’t some domineering effort where the Lakers’ stars totally carried the team. This was an all-around team win, from everyone chipping in on defense, to Alex Caruso — who had a key corner three to save this game in the final minute — Rajon Rondo, Danny Green and even Talen Horton-Tucker (in the rookie’s playoff debut!) and others contributing at various points. This was a true, egalitarian victory.
The only reason the Rockets were even in this game was because of the foul disparity on the evening, but don’t tell their tinfoil hat wearing fans about that one. The Rockets shot 39 freebies compared to the Lakers’ own 16 in a game they still lost by 10, but no, clearly the real reason their offense has fallen apart and they’re losing is the continued unjust absence of generational scorer Danuel House and the 11.4 points per game he was scoring in the playoffs. The NBA is clearly out to get the Rockets, obviously.
The Lakers should be able to wrap this up with a gentlemen’s sweep on Saturday in Game 5 as long as they show more of the defense that got them through three-and-a-half quarters in this one, and less of whatever their play down the stretch was. We’ll see you there.