The Los Angeles Lakers presented a slew of problems for the Houston Rockets, but defending Anthony Davis happened to be their biggest one.
Davis had 29 points and 12 rebounds, LeBron James came one assist shy from a triple-double and the Lakers cruised past the Rockets 110-100 on Thursday night to grab a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Lakers are now only one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2010.
James had 16 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists for Los Angeles, Alex Caruso scored 16 and Rajon Rondo added 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists 29 minutes.
Caruso was poised down the stretch when his number was called with 35 seconds left in the fourth. James backed his defender down, dribbled and found Caruso in the corner for the dagger three-point basket, followed by a block on the next play.
James added the finishing touches with an off the glass alley-oop dunk from Rondo to punch home the win for the Lakers.
“It’s a guy that we know we can count on,” James said on Caruso. “He doesn’t make many mistakes out on the floor, and just plays winning basketball. That’s just who he is. To have him it at crunch time, I didn’t have one-second guess if I was gonna hit him in that corner when I seen that he had a little bit of space. And he knows that I have the confidence in him to knock it down. And he shot it and made it. So it wasn’t a surprise to any of us.”
Russell Westbrook finished with 25 points, while James Harden had 21 and Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers added 19 and 14, respectively.
Harden was blitzed often in the game, resulting in a 2-for-11 shooting performance and overall frustrating night for the former MVP.
The Lakers led by as much as 23 points and never trailed in the game, holding a 57-41 halftime lead.
Harden was asked what contributed to the team’s flat effort through three quarters and he was wondering the same.
“Good question,” said Harden, shortly adding, “there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
Los Angeles dominated the Rockets on the glass, out rebounding Houston 52-26, including a points in the paint advantage, 62-24 and second-chance points, 17-3.
“We got down on ourselves a little bit,” Rockets head Coach Mike D’Antoni said postgame. “We’ve been battling uphill the last three or four days. We’ll lay it out on the line [in Game 5] and go from there.”
The Lakers led 101-78 with 7:21 remaining in the fourth but the Rockets then went on a 21-4 run to cut their deficit to six points, 105-99, with 58.7 seconds left.
“I think we did a good job getting more aggressive, and that led to a lot more opportunities offensively,” Harden said.
James and Caruso responded swiftly and led the Lakers to close out the game on an 11-5 run, resulting in the 110-100 victory.
However, the team still expressed their concern for giving up their late game lead, realizing they can’t afford to let their foot off the gas.
“Obviously, we’ve got to be better,” said James, who is 13-0 in playoff series when leading 3-1. “We’ve got to close out games the right way.”
The much anticipated matchup of the Lakers and Clippers in the Western Conference Finals is heating up, as the Clippers have a chance to eliminate the Denver Nuggets on Friday night, leading 3-1 in their series as well.
“Overall, it’s a heck of a win for our group,” Vogel said. Again, we’re not going to be comfortable playing against this team with the firepower they have.”
The Lakers will look to close out the Rockets in a pivotal Game 5 elimination match up on Saturday night at 5:00 PM.