LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Houston Rockets were facing a 29-point deficit in Game 5 of the second round of the playoffs Saturday night against the Los Angeles Lakers with 9:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Rockets guard Russell Westbrook was walking to inbound the ball from the sideline.
At first, Lakers guard Rajon Rondo was following him and Westbrook noticed. The two had been chirping at one another during the game. LeBron James approached for the switch, and Westbrook shouted, “You better double!” as a way to inform Rondo that he couldn’t possibly defend him by himself.
Rondo smiled and continued to follow Westbrook, but James remained in place and signaled for Rondo to latch on to a Rocket on the opposite side of the court. Rondo reluctantly gave in and James just chuckled.
“That’s Russ. That’s my guy. I love that dude,” James told Yahoo Sports. “He plays with so much passion that it’s crazy.”
A few minutes later, while James was at the free-throw line, Westbrook left his rebounding position after hearing someone from the family and friends section of the arena yelling, “Trash!”
“Who you talking to? Who’s that? Get the f--- out of here,” Westbrook said as he tried to get closer but was held back by official Eric Lewis. Anthony Davis walked by Westbrook. “Whose mans is that?” Westbrook asked the star forward. “Who is that?”
It was Rondo’s older brother, William, who had been assigned by the league to supervise the barbers and manicurists inside the bubble. William was escorted out of the arena by security during the game, and as of late Saturday night, he was uncertain about his status in the bubble moving forward.
Westbrook finished with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting in 35 minutes as the Rockets were eliminated following a 119-96 blowout.
“People at the game, you’re supposed to shut your mouth and watch the game,” Westbrook said. “That’s the rules, especially when you have families and people here. Apparently, I guess because Rondo was talking s---, [William Rondo] decided he wanted to hop in, too. But, it’s OK. It’s all good. I get it. He wanted to take up for his brother. Those rules stand for everybody though. No matter who it is. Family, whatever, but when you cross that line, then he’s supposed to be home. There's no rules and regulations for that. He started talking crazy, and I don’t play that game.”
In basketball-related matters, the Lakers, now +175 to win it all at BetMGM, advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2010, thanks in large part to James. They now await the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers-Denver Nuggets series, which resumes with Game 6 Sunday.
“I know what my name, my stature, and what I’ve done in this league comes with whenever I decide to join a franchise. That started with my first seven years in Cleveland, four years in Miami, back to Cleveland for four more years, and coming to this franchise,” James said after contributing 29 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two steals. “I know what my name comes with. And it comes with winning. I take that responsibility more than anything because I am a winner and I have always been a winner, from the first time I played organized basketball. … I understand the Laker faithful and what they felt or maybe were going through over the, I want to say, the last decade, of not being in the postseason, not competing for championships or whatever the case may be. I took that responsibility as well.”
James Harden led all scorers with 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting. He didn’t have much help offensively or on the glass. The Lakers controlled the boards with staggering ease, holding a 50-31 rebounding advantage on the small-ball Rockets.
After losing the opening game of the series, the Lakers won the next four while outrebounding Houston 186-122. Davis chipped in with 13 points and 11 boards Saturday night.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni and Harden still maintain that they could win by playing small ball without a center, but D’Antoni, whose contract is up, reportedly told the Rockets on Sunday that he won’t be returning.
In his four years of roaming the Rockets’ sideline, he’s been bounced in the second round on three occasions and fell in the conference finals in 2018.
The Indiana Pacers have interest in D’Antoni, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Daryl Morey, Houston’s analytics-driven general manager, will be under review as well by owner Tilman Fertitta, sources said.
Harden turned 31 last month. He’s the best two-guard in the game, but the clock is ticking on his championship window. Houston has a problem and there is likely to be some form of overhaul this offseason.
“I know I work my f---ing ass off,” Harden told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t feel I have to show the world what I’m doing or looking for credit, looking for love, looking for reassurances. This is the situation I’m in, and I’m just going to figure it out. I don’t know how long that’ll take, but that’s how I am. I’m just so focused, man. If a championship comes, it comes. But I’m going to continue to work my butt off until it comes. I’m not looking for any cop-outs, I’m not looking for any excuses, I’m not looking for anything else but putting my head down and keep working my butt off.”
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