LeBron and the Lakers have Westbrook, Harden, and the Rockets in a corner in the NBA playoffs, but how? #Lebron #Lakers #NBA
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This series has been a roller coaster so far, with each game bringing out new elements, but there are consistent factors that are beginning to happen like the pace in the 4th quarter. The Rockets have been outscored in the 4th quarter in game 2 and 3 by 10 points each and in both, the Rockets scored 20 or less. Game 2 could be chalked up to Westbrook just “running around”. But Game 3 was a similar story. And the reason for that was the Lakers were able to slow the pace down. Now the Rockets are a heavy iso offense, this means that their offense can be slow at times. And while that literally had LeBron shook in Game 1, the 4th quarter has tightened up.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. The Rocket’s success hinges on Westbrook with small ball because he’s the one that benefits the most from this. PJ Tucker is amazing and is perhaps the most valuable role player in the league, hitting the corner 3 better than anyone in the league and defending all the big men. This really had me dead. (avatar PJ Tucker). But in the small ball Rockets, Russ is the most crucial simply because he becomes the one that ends up putting pressure on the defense. It starts with James Harden who got doubled in Game 2. This isn’t a new strategy that the Rockets haven’t seen before. In fact with Russ and small ball, it’s what they want, because the double usually comes off of Russ’s man. In the regular season, Westbrook made the defense pay, not by shooting a 3, but by making the defense collapse by driving. He did this in game 1 and it worked. And then in Game 2, Westbrook decided to take 3s instead of doing what made small ball work. He took 7 threes in Game 2 which is the most 3s he took in a game since December of 2019.
Now LeBron has decided to be aggressive in the 4th quarter to make an effort to pull away rather than depending on the shooting of his teammates. Alright, not exactly although playoff Rondo did show up. The difference has been the tight defense. With the Harden trap, the Lakers actually do a lot of things. Which gets me to Harden. Harden hasn’t really put any sort of stamp on this series. You can look at the stats and say he’s averaging 32 points and 7 assists on 53% from the field and 48% from 3 and think Harden’s having an amazing series. He just hasn’t necessarily hit timely shots. But he has been important as a steady hand throughout the game, just not in the 4th when the Lakers have pulled away. Harden scored 5 points in each of the 4th quarters in the first 3 quarters. This has sorta been a recurring theme, unfortunate. In the first game, this worked out since Eric Gordon took charge and LeBron and AD both weren’t aggressive. But in the past two games, this didn’t make sense with LeBron and then Rondo taking over. It’s not that he’s played bad, it’s that he hasn’t played like the superstar he is. Part of that is definitely the Lakers’ defense, part of that is Harden.
Now let’s talk about the guy that has had the most individually positive impact in this series, Dion Waiters, aite it’s LeBron. LeBron has had his moments throughout the series, but he’s been the most effective when he’s decided to attack the rim without necessarily looking to pass. Specifically because there is no rim protector, only wings. The only time LeBron should be passing out is when the double comes which is what he did last game and in that 4th quarter in Game 2. The Rockets don’t have a set answer for that and so it depends on how LeBron is playing, not what the Rockets are doing. What’s sorta scary is that with LeBron being on fire, scoring 29 points in the first half, the Rockets were up 3. And that’s the principle behind the Rockets. The Rockets can stay with any team in the league. Game 2 really could’ve been a Rockets win despite LeBron and AD having good games, despite getting contributions from Morris and Kuzma.
So yeah this series has been a series of adjustments but these adjustments become a bit more extreme when you’re dealing with a more extreme team like the Rockets. The great thing about this series is that we don’t know how it’s going to turn out, or what team will show their hand at just the right time to win the series because that’s what these games have been about. But what do you think? Who’’s gonna win the series, Rockets or Lakers?