Before the Lakers-Rockets series began, there were many experts that expected the Rockets to possibly upset the Lakers. And why not? The Rockets essentially use a 5 guard set, are quick, shoot very well (most of the time), and have played outstanding defense in the Bubble.
After Game 1, a Rockets 11-2-97 victory, the evidence spoke for itself. The Rockets shot 48% from the field, 36% from behind the arc, out rebounded the Lakers (Remember…the Rockets’ tallest active player is 6’7″), held the Lakers to 42% from the field, and 29% from behind the arc. In fact, the Lakers couldn’t seem to stop a Rockets’ ball handler from getting by the first defender.
Other than a few quarters, here and there, in the remaining four games, the Rockets were never able to replicate their dominance from Game 1. The Lakers began to double Harden, work better at stopping that first dribble penetration, and were much crisper on their defensive rotations in order to wreak havoc on Houston’s explosive offense. A display that was never evident than in Game 5. Which, from the Lakers’ point of view, was a must win situation. Close out the series in five, and hope for a Nuggets’ victory in Game 6 for a few more days’ rest.
The Lakers wasted no time in clamping down on the Rockets. After 4 minutes, the Lakers raced out to a 15-4 lead. Finishing the quarter with a 35-20 lead. As much trouble as the Lakers had in stopping the Rockets in Game 1, the Rockets were much worse in Game 5.
During the 1st Quarter, the Rockets fell behind by 22 points, 33-11, with 3:02 remaining in the quarter. However, thanks to a 20-5 run over the next six minutes, cut the lead to 38-31. The Lakers looked to be in trouble. With 6:49 left in the 2nd Quarter, Anthony Davis scored his first points of the game with two free throws to push the lead to 13. The Lakers would end the half leading, 62-51.
Despite being only down by 11 at the half, the Rockets had issues. Their defense was allowing the Lakers to shoot 62% from the field and 50% from behind the arc. The Lakers were out rebounding the Rockets 22-11 and held Houston to just 8 three pointers. In reality, it was the Lakers 13 turnovers in the half that were keeping Houston in the ballgame.
Starting the third, the Rockets were able to cut the Laker lead to, 68-61 with 9:52 remaining the 3rd Quarter. However, a 15-0 run by the Lakers would eliminate any hope that the Rockets had in crawling back into the series.
Typically in the NBA, the expectation is that a team has three quality scorers in order to be successful. The Lakers have been proving this old adage wrong time-and-time again in these playoffs. As coach Frank Vogel has stated before the beginning of the NBA Bubble, their third option was going to be the “open man.” This was never more true than looking at the box score for Game 5. Anthony Davis only scored 13 points on Saturday night. However, Markieff Morris added 16, Danny Green at 14, and Kyle Kuzma added 17 points off the bench to complement LeBron James’ 29 point night in just 31 minutes.
After looking lost defensively on Game 1, the Lakers figured out how to manage the Rockets’ “small ball” with double teams and better defensive rotations. The new defensive look frustrated the Rockets over the final four games of the series. The Lakers reduced the Rockets’ ability to thrive off of the three point shot. After allowing 22 made three point shots in Game 2, The Lakers limited Houston to just 12, 14, and 13 three point shots in the final three game of the series. Take a team out of its comfort zone, and you stand a great chance of winning. This is exactly what the Lakers were able to do in order to continue their ride to another NBA title.
The Lakers’ opponent is yet to be determined, but a Clipper win Sunday, will set an all L.A. Western Conference Final. This should make for a great playoff series as the Clippers look to earn their first NBA Title.