After leading his team to within one win of the Western Conference Finals, LeBron James said the Los Angeles Lakers must to be better at closing out games.
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James recorded 16 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists in support of Anthony Davis’ game-high 29 points as the Lakers beat the Houston Rockets 110-100 in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semi-final series.
But after stifling Houston’s high-octane offense for three quarters and building a 23-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Lakers committed turnovers on four successive possessions to give the Rockets life.
Led by James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Houston ripped off an 18-2 run to close to 103-96. What could have been a comfortable blowout win was eventually sealed when Davis took advantage of a mismatch with Eric Gordon to score with 1:47 left in the game to give the Lakers some breathing room.
“We have got to be better,” James said. “We have got to close out games the right way.
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“For the first 43 minutes, we had our game plan and we executed it. For the majority [of games] if you’re going to execute your game plan for that long, for consistent minutes, you’re going to come out victorious. But we want to strive for something better than that. We want to work the game plan for 48 minutes.
“We are still a team that is growing. We have got some guys who have never been part of the postseason (before). This is our first run together. This was only our ninth game together in the postseason.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel echoed James’ sentiments.
“(The Rockets) are a team that has a lot of fight, spirit and firepower. We know if we have a big lead and it gets down to crunch time, they are going to get desperate,” he said. “We didn’t take care of the ball well enough and execute offensively well enough. That’s something we can work on and improve.”
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That was one of the few complaints the Lakers could make after Game 4.
The scoring margins were massive. Houston got outscored 62-24 in points in the paint, 17-3 on second-chance points and 19-2 on fast-break points. The Rockets were also outrebounded 52-26, matching the worst figure in the playoffs this season (Indiana were outrebounded by Miami by 26 in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round series).
Alex Caruso scored 16 points and Rajon Rondo had 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Lakers.
“We got two big guns and I don’t think the rest of the guys get enough credit,” Vogel told the LA Times.
Caruso’s three-pointer off a pass from James with 34.6 seconds left made it 108-100, sealing the win.
“When we are at our best, we are playing fast, playing off our defense and creating for our other team-mates,” Caruso told the LA Times after the game. “Obviously, we play through LeBron and AD and they have a super ability to score the basketball and play one on one, but we are at our best when we are getting to the paint, putting pressure on the rim, spacing the court and playing for each other. And those kinds of plays for our team are just energy.”
Westbrook had 25 points and Harden had 21 – on 2-for-11 shooting – for the Rockets, who got 19 from Gordon and 14 from Austin Rivers.
Houston went 4-for-20 from the field over a 16-minute stretch spanning from late in the first quarter to early in the third, getting outscored 41-23 and seeing their deficit growing from three to 21.
“We know we are in a big hole now, but the next game is the game we have got to win,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We will go out and if we lay it on the line like the way we did in the fourth quarter, we will be fine.”
Harden said: “I think we did a good job getting more aggressive, and that led to a lot more opportunities offensively.”
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He was then asked why the Rockets were flat through three quarters. “Good question”, he said, later adding, “there’s nothing we can do about it now.”