The NBA semi-finals have officially come to a close and the conference finals are upon us. This year’s unorthodox playoffs are as unpredictable as ever. Last week we reviewed the Eastern Conference action, so this week we’re onto the West.
On one side of the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Houston Rockets took on the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers had a very successful regular season, ending 52-19 and obtaining the No. 1 seed. They also have one of the best duos in the league with All-Stars in forward LeBron James and center Anthony Davis. James has got it done on both ends of the court, averaging 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.2 rebounds. Wherever James hasn’t been, Davis has been a dominant rebounder and scorer averaging 25.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. With excellent role players in shooting guard Kyle Kuzma, veteran point guard Rajon Rondo and star defender Danny Green this team has been a powerhouse.
The Rockets also had a stellar regular season as they ended with a 44-28 record and the No. 4 seed. They were led by shooting guard James Harden, the league’s leading scorer, and point guard Russel Westbrook. Harden has led the league in scoring multiple years in a row, along with earning an MVP in 2018. Harden averaged a commanding 34.3 points this season as he continues to prove he can’t be guarded. Westbrook averaged 27.2 points along with seven assists. This level of scoring hasn’t been seen since the prime of the careers of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson for the Golden State Warriors, as the Rockets starting backcourt averaged over 60 points a game.
This semi-finals series became a much-anticipated event. During Game 1 one, the Rockets took a commanding 112-97 win behind a stellar performance from Harden’s 36 points and Westbrook’s 24 points and nine rebounds. The Lakers struggled to shoot and struggled to guard the 3-pointer as the Rockets dominated the entirety of the game.
During Game 2, the Lakers showed up with more life, going up by 16 points in the first quarter. Los Angeles stayed on the gas pedal and never allowed the Rockets to recover from this lead, earning a 117-109 win to tie the series. During the outing, the Rockets averaged a mere 44% on field goals compared to the Lakers 56%.
In the third contest of the series, both teams played stellar defense and no team could take a substantial lead as they entered the fourth quarter with a tie game. The fourth quarter was all Lakers, with stellar passing by Rondo and scoring from Davis and James. The final score would be a 112-102 win by the Lakers led by 36 points from James, 26 points and 15 rebounds by Davis and 21 points from Rondo.
The Rockets came into Game 4 with intensity, knowing going down 3-1 to the James led Lakers was all but a guarantee that they were going home. Down the stretch, Houston’s shooting struggles continued, as the team struggled to average 30% from beyond the arc. The Rockets’ self-proclaimed small ball approach came back to bite them on maintaining possession of the ball, as the Lakers also outrebounded them with a total of 52 rebounds compared to the Rockets’ 26. With six players scoring in the double digits for Los Angeles, the Lakers took the 110-100 win and went up 3-1 in the series.
Game 5 was a win or go home contest for the Rockets, putting significant pressure on Harden to go off. As with previous contests, the physicality of Los Angeles quickly routed the Rockets. Harden scored his usual 30 points but had little help as the next highest scorer scored a mere 13. James got it down on all ends with 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. The game would end with a 119-96 Lakers win and a trip to the Western Conference Finals.