Following a discouraging loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Houston Rockets 117-109 in Game 2 on Sunday. Here are three takeaways from their second game of the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Playoff Rondo might be real
On Friday, Rajon Rondo played his first organized game of basketball in almost six months and he looked rusty. He also played in some weird lineups as a result of Frank Vogel trying to integrate Rondo back into the rotation. On Sunday, both of those issues were mostly addressed.
In Game 2, Rondo tallied 10 points, 9 assists and 5 steals and posted a game-high plus-minus of +28, the latter of which is also a season-high for the 34-year-old point guard. It might be too soon to say “Playoff Rondo” is a thing, but he certainly made a strong case on Sunday.
Whether or not Playoff Rondo is here to stay will depend on the lineups Vogel puts him in. While every game is different, you generally don’t want to play Rondo with another ball-dominant player like LeBron James, or without capable shooters on the floor. Vogel did a little bit of both on Sunday, but the team seemed to be mindful of Rondo’s limitations and worked around them throughout the game. That’s something that they can build on going forward.
Defense wins games
The Lakers outscored the Rockets 67-51 in the first half and shot 59.1% from the field. Their biggest lead in the first half was 21 points. In the second half, it was the Rockets that got whatever they wanted on offense — at least at first.
In the third quarter, the Rockets outscored the Lakers 41-23, which gave them a 92-90 lead going into the final frame. While the Lakers’ offense bounced back in the fourth, the real difference between the two teams in crunch time was defense. The Lakers managed to hold the Rockets to 17 points on 31.6% shooting from the field in the fourth.
Rondo had the best defensive rating in the fourth quarter (50) and the best overall defensive rating (96.7) in Sunday’s game. His five steals were a game-high, as were his eight deflections. Again, he had a great night.
As we all know, the Lakers’ offense comes and goes, but their defense is something they can control on any given night, and they were in complete control in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Defensively, they’ve lived up to the hype.
Everyone was better
Last game, my final takeaway was that everyone needed to be better in the next game. In short, they were.
Not only did LeBron James and Anthony Davis finish Game 2 with 62 points on 60.9% shooting from the field, but three different Lakers scored more than 10 points, including Markieff Morris, who scored 16 points on 4-5 shooting from behind the arc, and Kyle Kuzma, who scored 13 points.
If the bench starts to show signs of life and Vogel figures out his rotations, the Lakers could make quick work of the Rockets.