Three Takeaways As The Lakers Took Full Control With A Game 4 Win Over The Rockets

The Los Angeles Lakers dominated the proceedings for more than three quarters on Thursday evening, outlasting the Houston Rockets by a final score of 110-100 to take a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Semifinals. While the Lakers unquestionably took their foot off the pedal in the closing period, it was an emphatic win for the top-seeded squad.

With that as the backdrop, here are three takeaways from Game 4 that could inform Game 5 (and beyond).

1. The Lakers got important contributions from a bevy of supporting pieces

As usual, the Lakers were led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, though James wasn’t quite as dominant as usual. The future Hall of Famer finished with “only” 16 points, missing all five of his three-point attempts, but James did add 15 rebounds and nine assists to match 29 points and 12 rebounds from Davis. Still, it wasn’t a game that was headlined by the leading duo to the degree of many others, with the Lakers receiving tangible help from their supporting cast.

In a stunning development, 19-year-old wing Talen Horton-Tucker made an appearance in the first half, playing seven minutes and scoring five points to go along with two steals.

Elsewhere, Alex Caruso enjoyed one of the best games of his career, including a stretch in the early portion of the second quarter in which he fueled a 7-0 run with four points, a block, a steal and an assist.

Caruso finished with 16 points in 30 minutes, but it was an all-court effort from the 6’5 guard. He was put in tremendous defensive work, knocked down shots (including the eventual dagger late) and found open shooters.

The higher-paid supporting pieces were also strong for Los Angeles, with Danny Green scoring 10 points and providing two-way play. Finally, Rajon Rondo enjoyed another impactful game, channeling “Playoff Rondo” with 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.

All in all, it was a strong effort from the Lakers, but it certainly wasn’t all about AD and LeBron on this night.

2. Houston is in deep trouble, but they have to shoot more threes

For three-plus quarters, Game 4 was a dismal performance from Houston’s offense. The Rockets made things competitive with an admirable push in the fourth quarter but, in an overall sense, there was plenty to criticize, headlined by a game plan that doesn’t jive with the team’s strengths.

In the first half, the Rockets had almost as many turnovers (9) as three-point attempts (13) and, through three quarters, Houston made a bit of unenviable history with a lack of fastbreak and second-chance points.

Houston (mercifully) tallied a fastbreak bucket in the fourth quarter but, for a team built entirely on a small-ball approach, they simply didn’t shoot enough three-pointers yet again. The Rockets did end the night with 33 long-range attempts and, from a distance, that might look fine through a normal NBA lens. However, Houston shot 51 threes per game against Oklahoma City in the first round and, in the regular season, the Rockets led the league by four full attempts per game at 45.3.

In the first half, the Rockets went just 3-of-13 from long range and, while the second half was better, that is simply not a recipe they can afford to follow. It is very difficult to win without heavy three-point deployment, especially when the Rockets produced nothing on the offensive glass or in transition, and Houston’s roster construction is such where they simply have to play the numbers game against a big, physical Lakers team.

It certainly didn’t help that James Harden converted only two field goals in the entire game but, even if he had it going, the Rockets still need to play to their strengths.

3. No center, no problem for the Lakers

For most of the first three games, the Lakers played without a center on the floor. JaVale McGee played 27 minutes and Dwight Howard played 11 minutes, with Los Angeles quickly shifting away from both veterans in favor of Anthony Davis or Markieff Morris in the middle. In Game 4, Frank Vogel didn’t even wait, starting Morris alongside Davis and eschewing McGee and Howard entirely.

It is jarring to see that, even without a center, the Lakers utterly dominated on the glass, holding to the Rockets to one single offensive rebound and grabbing a 52-26 overall rebounding advantage. Los Angeles struggled, at least relatively, with McGee (-2 in 27 minutes) and Howard (-8 in 11 minutes) on the floor, but going smaller is a luxury that the Lakers have because, well, they are still bigger than the Rockets.

Davis is a center-sized entity in the modern NBA and, while P.J. Tucker does a fantastic job against him all things considered, the Rockets didn’t have any answers in this game. The Lakers are certainly giving up a bit of rim protection, but Houston is also playing directly into their hands by not firing away from long distance. If Los Angeles can continue to maintain complete control on the glass and in the paint, all while keeping the Rockets away from the three-point line, this series likely ends in five games.