It wasn’t the three-ball that doomed the Lakers — the Rockets made just 14 threes on the night.
It was quickness and penetration — Houston’s guards got into the lane all night and broke down the Lakers’ defense. James Harden and Russell Westbrook got wherever they wanted to be on the court and combined for 30 points in the paint by themselves. The Lakers’ defense was flat-footed and the communication was poor.
“There’s no way you can simulate that speed,” LeBron James said postgame.
The Rockets, bringing the energy of a seven-game series with them to the next round, rolled the Lakers late and ran away to a 112-97 win. Houston now leads the series 1-0 with Game 2 on Sunday.
A look at the Rockets shot chart for the game — and how often they got into the paint — sums up the Lakers’ problems.
The Lakers’ problems were not all on one end.
The Lakers have not been a good or consistent shooting team all season, while the small ball Rockets have been better defensively than expected in the bubble. The result of that was the Rockets holding the Lakers to 42.2% shooting overall and 28.9% from three.
“In the second half, [our] defense was right on point,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game. “Made them work for every shot, every point, and that’s what we want to do. That and keep them out of transition.”
The Rockets also forced 15 turnovers, many of them live ball, which let the Rockets get out in transition and convert those turnovers to 27 points.
Harden was hot early and had 25 of his 36 in the first half. Westbrook finished with 24 points, Eric Gordon with 23.
Anthony Davis, who tore up Portland last round and was primed for a big series against the undersized Rockets, had 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting but did not dominate the Rockets inside. LeBron had 20 points and maybe the dunk of the bubble so far.
Too many people look at the small Rockets and think teams should just go 1990s ball on them, bully them inside and run old-school postups. That doesn’t work — P.J. Tucker is a strong post defender. As is Harden. The Rockets do not allow long entry passes into the post, they pick those off. Teams have to match the Rockets and have movement to thrive inside, the Lakers were flat and watching all game.
The Lakers got Rajon Rondo back and one of Frank Vogels’ big mistakes was throwing him back into the lineup for heavy minutes. He was 3-of-9 shooting, had as many turnovers as assists, and was repeatedly torched defensively. Vogel stuck with him. Vogel ran a lot of lineups that didn’t work out there.
The Lakers lost Game 1 against Portland and bounced back to sweep the rest of the series. One game means just one game. But the Lakers are going to need to make adjustments — and just flat-out shoot better — because the Rockets know who they are and are playing with confidence.