He opened with a driving, twisting dunk. He bullied his way into the paint. He found his Lakers teammates for easy scores. And when Houston’s Russell Westbrook thought he had a good look at the basket, James smacked the ball so far out of bounds, it nearly rolled into a hallway.
“We’re at our best when he’s in attack mode,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
Game 2 was filled with dramatic swings for the Lakers, and ultimately they held on to even their second-round playoff series with a 117-109 victory on Sunday. James had 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, while Anthony Davis asserted himself early and late to finish with 34 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
The Lakers benefited from a poor shooting night by Westbrook, who scored only 10 points and made four of 15 shots, including only one of seven three-pointers.
Losing Game 1 jolted the Lakers awake for Game 2. Especially James, who was held scoreless in the fourth quarter of the opener.
“Sometimes you need one game to be able to understand the speed that they play with,” James said.
Things were rolling right along for the Lakers in the first half. Markieff Morris had become a can’t-miss sharpshooter, making four three-pointers in the first quarter for 12 points. Rajon Rondo was playing well. Davis imposed his aggressiveness on the Rockets, banging against P.J. Tucker, the 6-foot-5 forward tasked with guarding him.
The Lakers led by 16 points at the end of the first quarter and built upon that in the second. With 10:39 left in the half, Alex Caruso got the ball to James after a turnover by Westbrook. James’ alley-oop dunk roused the Lakers’ bench and forced the Rockets to take a timeout. During the break, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope met his teammates in the huddle and shouted: “Do not let up!”
At halftime, the Lakers led 67-51.
They had outscored Houston by 16 points in the paint, by 12 on fast breaks and their bench had scored 21 points to the Rockets’ 11.
Whatever happened at halftime changed the complexion of the game.
The Rockets opened the second half on a 14-0 run. They took their first lead since early in the game, 82-80, with 4:31 left in the third and outscored the Lakers 41-23 in the quarter.
“In the third quarter our rotation was kind of bad,” Davis said. “We weren’t getting out to their shooters and kind of got them back in a rhythm. In the first, second and fourth, our rotations were on point and we were closing out to their shooters. Making them drive the basketball and shoot two. So they came out very explosive from three in that third quarter and got back in the game. They got a little rhythm. So we tried to cut their water off and make sure that they beat us in another way than over the top.”
The Lakers pushed back in the fourth quarter, with James scoring eight points, to even the series.
James Harden finished with 27 points and Eric Gordon made six three-pointers and added 24 while Tucker had 18 for the Rockets, who made 22 three-pointers.
“Our job is to win the fourth quarter at that point, we’re down two, they had a huge run in the third and that’s what we’re thinking about going into the fourth quarter,” Davis said.
“We’re not in that situation thinking we can be down 0-2 if we lose this game. Our mind-set is how do we win this game, and we came out with a defensive mindset.”
As the Lakers were taking control at the end, James was able to share his emotions with a rare thing in the bubble — an in-person cheering section.
They were guests of Lakers players, family members and loved ones who had been allowed into the NBA’s bubble here at Disney World. After the game ended, James shouted gleefully toward his wife, Savannah, who was one of several wives or partners attending the game.
“You’ve also seen me yelling over on that side when no one is over there,” James said. “So it hasn’t changed for me. It’s definitely always great to see familiar faces. People that you know that has been there, along the grind with you throughout postseason runs for me personally as well. … At the same time, you keep the main thing the main thing, and make sure to execute.
“But the emotions are definitely great when you’re making plays out there and you’re doing it for your brothers, your teammates and your family and friends as well.”
Three takeaways on the Lakers
- The Lakers needed a more locked-in and aggressive Davis and they got it to start the game. He fought for rebounds with fire and made three of his first four shots.
- After a lackluster showing in Game 1, Rondo produced some critical plays off the bench, forcing three turnovers through the first three quarters. He had 10 points, nine assists, five steals and a plus-minus rating of plus-28.
- The Lakers like to run and had 16 fast-break points during the first half. In the third quarter, through the first 11 minutes, they had none.