Anthony Davis dominated the Rockets in Thursday’s 110-100 Game 4 win, tallying 29 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and five turnovers in 40 minutes. The final score did not indicate the true blowout nature of the game, as the Lakers pulverized the Rockets through the first half of action, going into halftime with a 16-point lead and their largest advantage was 23. Things got sloppy towards the end of the game, which allowed the Rockets to narrow the deficit, but for the most part, it was a muscle-flexing performance from Los Angeles.
LeBron James posted a 16-point, 15-board double-double to go with nine dimes, two steals and four turnovers across 34 minutes; and Rajon Rondo flirted with a triple-double in his 29 minutes off the bench with 11 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, one triple and three turnovers.
Markieff Morris replaced JaVale McGee (DNP-CD) in the starting unit and he hit 4-of-10 shots for nine points, one 3-pointer, four rebounds and one turnover in 23 minutes. This was the first game that Frank Vogel didn’t deploy either of his traditional centers for the entirety of the game, but that trend will likely continue against the 6-foot-7-or-less Rockets.
James Harden went just 2-of-11 from the field, which was the first time that he only connected on two of his shot attempts since the season opener, but he also managed to make 20 trips to the charity stripe and he connected on 16 of those freebies, finishing with 21 points, 10 assists, one 3-pointer, four rebounds, two steals, three blocks and five turnovers in 39 minutes. The Lakers did a nice job of not allowing him to get any easy looks, but he also missed a lot of shots he traditionally makes.
The problem is, to me at least, that the Rockets offense has become a bit too predictable in that you know they will only attempt two types of shots: 3-points or layups. While it’s true that those shots are statistically the best in basketball, that theory kind of goes out the window when the other team knows you’re going to ignore the entire area between those two points; the shots you take become easier to defend because they are more predictable.
What’s even stranger is that the usually rigid Mike D’Antoni allows only Russell Westbrook to break this rule, which doesn’t make a ton of sense given that Westbrook is quite literally one of Houston’s least efficient mid-range shooters, and opposing teams want him pulling up rather than driving to the bucket. He did do a better job of limiting the mid-range attempts on Thursday, though, scoring 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting to go with three 3-pointers, three rebounds, three assists, three steals, one block and three turnovers in 41 minutes.
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The Lakers did do an excellent job of defending the 3-point line on Thursday, holding Houston to just 33 three-point attempts, which was huge considering the Rockets usually jack up closer to 46 triples throughout a game, and they yet again dominated the boards – outrebounding the Rockets 52-26. Houston losing the battle of the boards has been a common theme in each one of their losses, and it’s not hard to see why, when they’re running the 6-foot-5, P.J. Tucker at center.
Small ball is a fun way to play the game, but when it’s the only way you play, you set yourself up for a lot of issues. As the great Pat Riley once said, “no rebounds, no rings.”
Mike D’Antoni has an amazing basketball mind, and there’s no denying that he revolutionized the game, but his mad scientist approach went a little too far this year with the trade of Clint Capela for Robert Covington and some second-round picks. His contract with Houston will expire at the end of this season, and if the Rockets get bounced in the semis, this may be the last we see of the small-ball King. Game 5 will tip-off at 8pm ET on Saturday.