James Harden finally showed up for a playoff game his team really needed him in, but unfortunately for him and everyone in the Houston area, none of his Rockets teammates decided to join him. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers completed a dismantling of Rockets not seen since the U.S. government slashed NASA’s budget, finishing off their second consecutive five-game gentleman’s sweep of the NBA playoffs and sending the Rockets home with an easy, 119-96 victory.
The Lakers got out to a hot start with their shooting, jumping all over the Rockets to begin the game and taking a 22-point lead in the first quarter. LeBron was brutalizing his way to the basket, the Lakers’ bench was going bananas, and it looked like this game might be over before it was started.
By midway through the second, however, they’d clearly eased off the gas a bit, and the Rockets had cut the deficit to just 7 points as they started to hit their open shots. For all their talk over the last few days about the importance of locking in over 48 minutes tonight, the Lakers clearly weren’t doing so in the second quarter.
The team must have realized as much as halftime, because they absolutely crushed the Rockets’ collective spirit the rest of the way. They forced misses, snatched rebounds to end possessions, and bullied the hell out of Houston on the interior. They were even hitting threes, and built up a 30-plus point lead by the time the fourth quarter had started. All that was left was to run out the clock.
LeBron got to finish his night early, wrapping things up with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. He had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists in 31 minutes, clearly ready to be done with this series and move on to a real opponent.
His co-star, Anthony Davis, was less good offensively, but they got a lot of help from their role players, who knocked down 51.4% of their threes to space the floor and punish Houston for all the attention they sent at James and Davis. Danny Green (14 points, 4 threes) and Markieff Morris (16 points, perfect 4-4 shooting from deep) deserve special mention as being especially excellent. Kyle Kuzma provided some punch off the bench with 17 points, continuing to use cuts to smash the Rockets into spare parts.
Harden finished with 30 points on 12-20 shooting, but his team shot just 27.1% from three and offered him little help. Russell Westbrook was a bigger threat to the Lakers’ family section — he got Rajon Rondo’s brother thrown out after arguing with him from the sidelines — than the actual Lakers, scoring just 10 points on abysmal 4-13 shooting. He is due nearly $130 million over the next three years. Houston, you have a problem.
The Lakers will now await the winner of the LA Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets series as they move on to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2010. After another series that ended with four wins in a row following a Game 1 defeat, they can just enjoy another break before this #WeBelieve run continues for this plucky, No. 1 seeded group of underdogs that have become so fashionable to pick against and undervalue.
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