Houston Rockets star James Harden failed to deliver an MVP-level effort in another pivotal playoff loss, as the Los Angeles Lakers joined the L.A. Clippers one win from meeting in the Western Conference finals.
Anthony Davis scored a game-high 29 points, and the Lakers bullied Houston’s vaunted small-ball offense, taking a 3-1 series lead with a wire-to-wire 110-100 win on Thursday. The Lakers will look to close out the Rockets in Saturday’s Game 5, one night after the Clips hope to do the same against the Denver Nuggets.
“They’re not going to go away,” Davis told the TNT’s Allie LaForce following the game. “We’ve got another tough one whenever we play again. Knowing that an elimination game is always the toughest, this team’s not going to quit, so we’ve got to come out with a killer mindset that we’re going to finish the series.”
Rockets struggle on offense
The Rockets did look as though they had quit for much of Game 4. Harden made just two of his 11 shots, scoring 16 of his 21 points at the free-throw line and doing his best work during a too-little, too-late run against a Lakers team on cruise control in the fourth quarter. Fellow former MVP Russell Westbrook added 25 points, but they combined for eight turnovers and played turnstile defense through three-plus quarters.
James Harden on why the team looked so flat through 3 quarters:— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) September 11, 2020
“That’s a good question.”
The Lakers stormed to a lead as large as 22 points in the third quarter on the strength of Davis and a balanced offensive attack around him. They outworked the Rockets at every turn, especially on defense, where their energy made Houston become the first playoff team in recorded history to finish the first three quarters scoreless on both the fast break and second-chance points. When all was said and done, the Lakers outscored Houston 62-24 in the paint, 17-3 on second-chance points and 19-2 on the fast break.
Caruso helps Lakers hold off Rockets’ surge
The Rockets trimmed their deficit to 105-100 with just under a minute left on a 22-4 run that featured five Lakers turnovers, six Harden free throws and a pair of three-pointers apiece from Westbrook and Eric Gordon. But Alex Caruso responded with his own three, and LeBron James scored the last of the Lakers’ fast-break points on an off-the-backboard alley-oop from Rajon Rondo that pushed the lead back to 10.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel rode the same lineup that started the second half of their Game 3 win, swapping JaVale McGee out in favor of Markieff Morris on Thursday. The more versatile and still massive frontcourt of Morris, Davis and James played only 16 non-garbage-time possessions together during the regular season, according to Cleaning the Glass. They outscored the Rockets by eight in 11 minutes as a trio on Thursday.
Anthony Davis noted that this Lakers group is still quite new to each other. Only a few guys have experience playing together prior to this season, and many of their lineups have played few minutes on the court. Still a lot of room for growth.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) September 11, 2020
Davis owned the opening quarter, nearly registering his double-double in the game’s first 12 minutes and establishing dominance in the paint, where the Lakers out-rebounded the Rockets 52-26. James added 16 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists, and Rondo (11 points) was two assists shy of his triple-double.
The Rockets have a short window to address what may well be unresolvable issues against a Lakers group that has leveraged its size and superstars to make life miserable for a team lacking both right now. At the very least, Houston must give greater effort on Saturday, and Harden cannot afford another playoff stinker.
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