The story behind the start of the Rockets-Lakers Western Conference Semifinals was whether the Lakers would be able to handle the small ball played by the Rockets. With no player over 6’7”, the Lakers have a great size advantage; however, the big question is whether the Lakers can stop the Rockets offensively.
Game 1 started with the Rockets moving the ball on offense and the Lakers unable to really stop any of the Rockets’ drives. Nearly every possession in the first half, the Rockets were able to get to the rim for an easy layup, or for a kick out for an open jump shot. From the 4:12 mark, the Lakers were able to put together four good defensive stands and limit the dribble penetration. A James Harden 3 at the end of the half gave the Rockets a 63-55 lead. Harden led all scorers with 25 first half points.
The Rockets finished the half shooting 51% from the field and 43% from behind the arc. The Rockets will need more of the the same in the 2nd half in order to hold off the Lakers.
More of the same is exactly what the Rockets got in the 2nd half. Not only did they continue to get to the rim and take advantage of poor defensive rotations by the Lakers, they were able to shut down the Lakers and force bad shots from the Lakers.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Rockets extended their lead to 15 points with James Harden on the bench. The 10-0 run by the Rockets was centered around great on-ball defense by the Rockets. At 8:28 in the fourth, Harden returned to the floor and the Rockets continued their run to take a 101-82 lead with 7:15 to go in the fourth.
To compound the Lakers defensive woes, they went 4 minutes without scoring in the 4th quarter. If points were not coming from Anthony Davis or LeBron James, the Lakers struggled to score. The only other Laker in double figures was Danny Green with 10. This combination is not going to win the Lakers too many games.
James Harden led the way for the Rockets with 36 points. Russell Westbrook added 24 and Eric Gordon scored 23. For the Rockets, it seems that the direction is clear: continue their aggressive defense, plenty of movement on offense, and continue to get to the rim. If the Lakers cannot stop the ball defensively, the Rockets are likely to sweep this series.