Lakers vs Rockets score, takeaways: LeBron James throws LA, “Playoff Rondo” brings him home in Game 3


The Los Angeles Lakers have been nothing if not consistent in these playoffs. Against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets, they lost their first game. And against the Blazers and Rockets, they went undefeated thereafter. After winning four straight games off Portland, the Lakers have now beaten Houston in both Games 2 and 3 to take a 2-1 lead over the Rockets. Tuesday’s victory was worn by the stars. LeBron James carried the Lakers throughout the first half scoring 29 points in two quarters, but Rajon Rondo provided 21 points and nine assists to lead the Lakers to the finish line.And so, a tremendous performance from Houston’s top two players is wasted. Russell Westbrook’s decision making was certainly questionable, but he gave the Rockets 30 points on 13 of 24 shots. James Harden had 33 points, but the role players only had 39 more points. Houston doesn’t try just 30 3 points often, but they did in this game, and it came back to haunt them. Now the pressure is on the Rockets. If they don’t make serious adjustments, the Lakers will send them home by the end of the week. Here are the main takeaways from Game 3.

Rondo eliminatory

The man, the myth, the legend. He spends 10 months every year in hibernation, but when the playoffs roll in, Rajon Rondo transforms into the Hall of Famer we knew and loved in Boston. On Sunday, his individual stats were pedestrian, but the Lakers outscored the Rockets by 28 points during his rushing minutes. The margin wasn’t that big on Tuesday, but Rondo was an absolutely essential part of the win with 21 points and nine assists.

Part of it comes down to effort. Rondo’s energy in the playoffs is definitely different. Part of that stems from the effect he has on his teammates. Kyle Kuzma scored 17 points off the bench with plenty of cuts that Rondo took advantage of. When off-ball movement stops in the playoffs, having a playmaker who can generate it is essential. And part of it is just magic. Rondo is a career 31.6% 3-point shooter, but he’s making 40% in five attempts per game in this series. It’s best not to over-explain the Rondo playoff phenomenon. It’s one of the great mysteries of the NBA, and the Lakers are great with it.

Houston is running out of body

Danuel House missed Game 3 for personal reasons. It’s unclear if he’ll be back for Game 4. Robert Covington took a bad fall after colliding with Kyle Kuzma in the fourth quarter and had to leave the game. Its status is not known. Despite 30 points, Russell Westbrook suffered a groin injury for most of these playoffs.

At some point, teams reached the tipping point when it comes to injuries. In Game 3, the Houston players made just six 3-pointers. It was a team that already had 6-4 Eric Gordon defending LeBron James. They don’t have exactly the margin of error that a typical competitor would have. James Harden and Russell Westbrook were their only sources of constant attack in Game 3, and that has to change in Game 4.

The Lakers are changing things defensively

The Lakers can live with 33 points on Harden while the rest of the Rockets are struggling. Houston’s path to winning this series, in light of the last two games, might just rely on Harden scoring the rest of the series in the 40s. It’s always a possibility with the champion scoring, but the striker-less Lakers like Lu Dort threw so many different looks Harden-style that he struggled to find any rhythm, especially in the second half.

In Game 2, the 1-2-2 area they used in the second and fourth quarters was the star. In Game 3, it was their tightened traps. In Game 2, those traps led to 20 3-pointers in three quarters for the Rockets because they were way too aggressive. The Lakers ran the defenders onto the field with so little goal that Harden had time to swing the ball to open the shooters with ease. In Game 3, the traps were more decisive. Usually the trapper would come from the player closest to Harden, and both defenders would pull him away from that direction in order to take away the obvious pass. The Lakers executed the traps so late in the shot clock that the Rockets didn’t have time to get the ball back to Harden with time to create it. The spins, especially with a non-shooter like Westbrook in the game, were pretty straightforward. The Lakers got the saves they needed.

Houston will have a counter in Game 4. The Lakers will have a counter at this counter ready. Their plan against Harden has been to constantly change the plan, and so far it has worked perfectly.


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