I love this Lakers team. Again without Anthony Davis, and coming off a loss vs. the Magic on Wednesday, the Lakers ventured to Houston for the first game of their Grammy Road trip and beat the Rockets 124-115 on Saturday night. They were powered by LeBron James 31 point, 5 rebound, 12 assist night, but with contributions up and down the roster this was a true team effort that showed, again, a resiliency and ability to rally over the course of the game win a hard fought contest.
That resiliency was needed because, in the 1st half, the Lakers simply did not play all that well. Sure, the 6 point deficit after two quarters didn’t seem that bad, but it’s easy to argue the Lakers were a bit lucky to be down so little. Looking unsure of their gameplan or simply not committed enough to it, the Lakers did not rotate well after throwing high traps at James Harden allowing all sorts of miscues on the back end of their defense.
Whether it was allowing good shooters to take (and make) open 3’s or taking bad angles on closeouts on Russell Westbrook — leading to easy driving lanes — the Lakers were off their game defensively. Add to those mistakes the amount of fouls the team committed on both Harden and Russ, it was just a frustrating early part of the game for this watcher, at least.
In the 3rd quarter, however, this all started to shift. First, the Lakers put Kyle Kuzma on Russ defensively — a tactic that put more size on Russ and, in turn, limited his ability to do the type of damage he did in the paint on the Lakers smaller, less physical defenders in the 1st half. Second, the Lakers more fully bought in and executed their gameplan of trapping Harden and rotating behind him to bottle up the Rockets’ actions. After the game Vogel said that the Lakers watched “a lot” of tape at halftime, mostly looking at ways to clean up their defense to get better results.
Well, it worked. What also worked was the Lakers ability to turn those stops into good offensive possessions. As I noted at the top, this truly was a team effort and beyond LeBron’s 31 points, there were 3 additional Lakers who scored 20 or more points. Danny Green and KCP both had 20 and Kuzma had 23. Combined they hit 8 three-pointers and were able to also shake free in both the halfcourt and transition to score in the paint, too. Most of this was fueled by LeBron’s brilliant passing, but credit those guys for also showing a commitment to getting out and hunting open court chances making smart cuts when the action slowed down and the team had to go into more methodical sets.
In the 2nd half the Lakers outscored the Rockets 65-50, but all that was on the strength of their 32-17 3rd quarter win. The Lakers really turned the screws on Houston that period and that effort and commitment turned the game in their favor for good.
And, there, is really the story of this game. The Lakers weren’t at full strength and came out of the gates slow and not sharp defensively. However, through better commitment and strong play from LeBron and the supporting cast, the Lakers took control of the game in the 2nd half to the point that the Rockets really didn’t have any answers in the end. This was a really good win and a great start to what is slated to be a tough road trip.
And now, for some notes…
- I rarely talk about the referees in this space, but I do not think was this was a particularly well reffed game. There were too many offensive fouls called, some missed goaltending calls, a technical fouled on a JaVale for celebrating a blocked shot, and just a certain lack of control that left both sides feeling like they were getting a bad whistle. And while having both sides mad can sometimes be representative of a fairly called game, I thought both sides were mad because the standard of what was or was not a foul seemed to change and there were too many missed calls for anyone’s liking. I thought both sides had legitimate beef, too, so this isn’t just me clamoring for more calls to go the Lakers way.
- Quinn Cook deserves a bunch of credit, man. Starting with the OKC game when LeBron and AD both sat to the previous games with Rondo out, Cook has had his number called as a backup point guard and has played quite well. Cook only played 5 minutes vs. the Rockets, but he hit a couple of big jumpers in some pretty important non-LeBron minutes and equated himself well when Houston looked like they wanted to really pressure the ball and force the Lakers into tough shots.
- JaVale McGee had a couple of huge blocks in this game — one a blocked 3-point attempt by PJ Tucker and one a crazy block on a Capela dunk attempt that really needs to be seen. So, here you go:
- Not Alex Caruso’s best game. He looked thrown off by Houston’s switching defense and offered little resistance vs. Westbrook when he went to his power drive and post up game. Caruso is more a position defender than one who will match the physicality of bigger guys, but I thought he ceded ground way too easily against Russ. This should be a game where he goes back and watches a lot of tape to figure out how he can be better.
That’s it for this one, ya’ll