Grant Greek – 23 Sports

Make it 40 times that the Los Angeles Lakers have at least made an appearance in the Conference Finals out of 60 playoff appearances and 71 total seasons in the NBA. The last time Los Angeles got this far into the playoffs was back in 2010 when the late, great Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to a 16th title. Switching all-time greats, it is now Lebron James who leads this team, trying to get a fourth ring and a title win with a third team.

As far as the Houston Rockets are concerned, they still have some figuring out to do because going small ball across the whole team by trading Clint Capela did not make a difference in playoff success. They were able to squeak by what was thought of as the clearly inferior team in the Oklahoma City Thunder, going to a Game 7 showdown, but then they met the big dogs, and this time, the size of the dog did matter in the fight. 

However, after Game One, the small-ball lineup seemed to be pretty successful against such a big Laker team. The Rockets had previously won the last game against Los Angeles with this small-ball lineup back in the regular season, and they stole the first game of these semifinals. Houston only led by six entering the final quarter, but a 16-3 run, led mostly by Eric Gordon up to the 7:15 mark, gave the Rockets a 19 point lead that they would hold on to for the remainder of the game, winning 112-97, James Harden going off for 36 points. The Lakers now faced a consecutive 1-0 deficit.

After a slow day from the three in Game One and an overall underwhelming performance, it was Los Angeles’ turn to prove they can play great basketball, and in Game Two, they did just that. The Lakers broke away for a huge first quarter, going up 16, a lead they maintained late into the third quarter. Houston ended the third up two, but it only took less than two minutes for Los Angeles to take back the lead and keep it, winning 117-109. And once again, Los Angeles tied the series at one heading into Game 3.

  In Game three, Houston was much more competitive, finishing all of the first three quarters at least being tied or in the lead. Russell Westbrook was much more of a factor, as he only had 10 points in Game 2, this time he had 12 points in this first half alone. Once again, unfortunately, Los Angeles pulled away late, Anthony Davis with a second straight game of 30 plus points, James putting up big numbers as expected in this series. The Lakers now up 2-1 with a 112-102 win.

If Houston was going to win Game Four, they needed somebody else besides the trio of Harden, Westbrook and Gordon to step up. A one-time 18-point performance from PJ Tucker in Game Two wasn’t going to be enough to beat this Laker team loaded up to their third-stringers with talent. Unfortunately, nobody except for those three put up big numbers, and on very low efficiency as well, 39% shooting amongst them, their lowest collective shooting performance so far. Rockets couldn’t take advantage of James’ low scoring performance, as he was still able to be effective with 15 rebounds and 9 assists, while six Lakers got into double figures as well on 49% shooting. The Lakers won 110-100, getting a big lead midway through the 2nd quarter and keeping it big. Down 3-1, it looked like some suitcases needed to start getting filled up.

Game Five, a last hoorah, hope is not lost, can the Rockets be the David to the Lakers Goliath? Yes! If David got smacked and embarrassed with his loved ones in the crowd. Besides Harden’s 30-point effort, the next two top scorers for the Rockets were Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, with 13 and 10 each. Talk about domination, Houston led for 0:00 minutes. This game goes alongside many other embarrassing elimination games, except this one cost coach Mike D’Antoni his job. The Lakers completed the series winning 119-96, and James has still made a conference finals in every playoff appearance he’s been in since 2011.

 

Outlook: 

As far as this series goes, we saw what we expected from the Lakers, Davis averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds, and James with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists, along with a great supporting cast to help them when they need to take a rest. They now wait for the winner of the Nuggets-Clippers series, many people hoping for a Los Angeles rivalry matchup, even though all the games are in Orlando, but it is the Nuggets who have come back from 3-1 for the second time in these playoffs. In both Games 5 and 6, they came back from 16+ point leads. The Lakers will be favored no matter who wins and rightfully so, but it is a matter of how much that will be the question and can be answered based on the result of the upcoming Game Seven.

For the Rockets, as mentioned earlier, this marks another year they have fallen apart in the playoffs. They’ve tried many pairs with Harden, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and now Westbrook, but every result has a similar conclusion. You cannot put the blame all on Harden though, both Westbrook and D’Antoni have several instances of falling short in the playoffs. Harden claimed that they are “a piece away” after the loss. What does that mean? Danuel House’s scandal with a female coronavirus tester certainly did not help their chances of beating a team already much better, but they continue to find ways to lose. Letting D’Antoni walk was the right move to start things off going forward.

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