The Los Angeles Lakers have followed a pattern this postseason: lose Game 1, win everything else. That’s what happened against the Portland Trail Blazers, as the Lakers lost their opener and swept the rest of the series, and so far, it’s what is happening against the Houston Rockets. Houston took Game 1, but after a back-and-forth 117-109 victory, the Lakers tied the series 1-1.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis, held to 45 points in Game 1, combined for 62 efficient ones to go along with 21 rebounds and 13 assists.
The Rockets, meanwhile, couldn’t maximize an absolutely incredible shooting night because 22-of-53 shooting outings from 3-point range don’t grow on trees, and now they will have to figure out what adjustments are necessary ahead of a crucial Game 3 on Tuesday. They may have thrown the opening punch, but the Lakers absorbed it and retaliated in kind. Here are the most important takeaways from Game 2.
Will the real Russell Westbrook please stand up?
After three underwhelming games against Oklahoma City and a pedestrian opener against the Lakers, Russell Westbrook dropped a massive dud in Game 2 that he could regret for the rest of the series. The former MVP shot only 4-of-15 from the field, and while his 13 rebounds were crucial against the bigger Lakers, he was such a non-factor in half-court offense and defense that Houston chose not to play him for parts of the fourth quarter. Instead, the focus was on surrounding James Harden with shooting.
Some of this is health. He’s still dealing with the quad issue that kept him out of the first four games against the Thunder. But a lot of it boils down to the basic issues Westbrook has always had in the playoffs. The Lakers sagged off him all night, begging him to take and miss jumpers. He acquiesced. When he drove to the basket, he met a sea of Lakers in the paint. They trusted him to make bad decisions, and he did with seven turnovers.
Westbrook has a function in this series and on this team. But his flaws are being magnified by the caliber of opponent and the specificity of playoff game-plans. Houston’s best bet at this point might just be admitting that he isn’t a 30-minute per-game player in this matchup, and that their best chance at generating late-game offense would be to space the floor as much as possible for Harden. All Houston really needs out of Westbrook is ball-handling during Harden’s rests and the occasional fast-break. He can provide that in 20-25 minutes without hurting the Rockets as much elsewhere. Until he proves that he is healthy enough to be a superstar again, that might be his best use in this matchup.
The Lakers fell for their own trap, but eventually entered the zone
When smart teams have trapped against Houston this season, they’ve done so with purpose. They usually use Russell Westbrook’s man as the doubler on James Harden when he crosses half-court. The logic is sound. Westbrook is a non-shooter. It’s a manageable 4-on-3 with the proper rotations.
The Lakers went way too far in trapping themselves. They didn’t just trap off of Westbrook’s man, they trapped off of shooters, and they didn’t just trap Harden, they trapped Eric Gordon….