The Los Angeles Lakers will try to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time in 10 years when they meet the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of their semifinal series on Saturday in the NBA bubble near Orlando.
The Lakers put the Rockets on the brink of elimination with a 110-100 victory on Thursday for a 3-1 series lead. Los Angeles almost blew a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter but a clutch 3-pointer by reserve guard Alex Caruso helped clinch the win after Houston closed to within five points with about a minute left.
“Obviously, we’ve got to be better. We got to close out games the right way,” LeBron James told the media after the game. “We get a big lead we got to be able to continue to defend and to continue to put the pressure on their defense and not allow them to get back in the game like we did.”
Anthony Davis had 29 points and 12 rebounds and James finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists as the Lakers dominated for much of the contest before their fourth-quarter lull. Caruso added 16 points and Rajon Rondo delivered another solid performance with 11 points, 10 boards and eight assists off the bench.
The Lakers haven’t made it to the conference finals since 2010, when the late Kobe Bryant led them. They beat the Phoenix Suns for the conference title en route to their last NBA title, beating the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
Russell Westbrook scored 25 points and James Harden contributed 21 points but managed just 2-of-11 shooting from the floor and was 1-for-6 on 3-pointers for the Rockets, who lost their third straight to the Lakers after winning Game 1. Harden was 16 of 20 from the foul line.
Houston’s Eric Gordon had 19 points and Austin Rivers chipped in 14.
Harden wasn’t pleased with how the Rockets played overall.
“I mean there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Harden said when asked about the Rockets’ lackluster play in the opening three quarters. “We just got to get ready for Game 5 and bring that same energy and have that carry over into Game 5.”
The Lakers seized a 101-78 lead after a layup by Caruso with 7:21 remaining. The Rockets answered with a 22-4 surge to close the gap to 105-100 after two free throws by Harden with 58.7 seconds left. Caruso’s corner 3-pointer on an assist by James with 35.8 seconds left pushed the margin to eight and put the game out of reach.
Los Angeles outscored Houston 62-24 on points in the paint and controlled the glass with a 52-26 advantage, including 12-1 on offensive boards. The Lakers also held a 19-2 edge in fast-break points.
“Overall, it’s a heck of a win for our group,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Again, we’re not going to be comfortable playing against this team with the firepower that they have. We’re up 3-1 but we’re going to stay the course and stay the more desperate team.”
Early Friday night, the NBA announced it was kicking Rockets guard Danuel House Jr. out of the bubble and banning him for the rest of the season for “a recent violation of campus health and safety protocols.”
“Danuel House had a guest in his hotel room over multiple hours on September 8 who was not authorized to be on campus,” the statement added.
House missed Games 3 and 4 after the NBA announced its investigation. House averaged 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in the playoffs.
–Field Level Media