Anthony Davis was the biggest player on the floor, and the Houston Rockets had no answers.
Davis had 29 points and 12 rebounds, LeBron James finished one assist shy of a triple-double and the Los Angeles Lakers topped the Rockets 110-100 on Thursday night to take a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.
James had 16 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists for the Lakers, who outrebounded the Rockets 52-26. Alex Caruso scored 16 points and Rajon Rondo had 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Lakers, who held on after frittering away most of a big second-half lead.
“Turnovers,” Davis said. “We had too many turnovers.”
That was one of the few complaints the Lakers could make after Game 4.
Russell Westbrook had 25 points and James Harden had 21 for the Rockets, who got 19 from Eric Gordon and 14 from Austin Rivers.
The Lakers were up by 23 midway through the fourth, well on their way to a blowout win. That’s when Houston’s offense woke up.
Westbrook made a corner 3 with 3:01 left, Harden got a steal and a pair of free throws on the next possession, and the Rockets put together a 18-2 run to get within 103-96. The Lakers turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions during that stretch, unable to get anything going.
Smartly, though, on the biggest possession of the night as the clock ticked inside the two-minute mark, they went to Davis. Gordon, who stands about half-a-foot shorter than Davis, had no chance as the Laker All-Star scored in the lane to push the lead back out to nine and buy the Lakers a bit of breathing room.
Caruso’s 3-pointer off a pass from James with 34.6 seconds left made it 108-100, and the Lakers escaped.
This is how easy things were for the Lakers: In the third quarter, James grabbed a defensive rebound, turned and fired a 70-foot pass — soccer throw-in style — to Davis, the ball sailing over the five Rockets who were jogging back on defense. Davis caught the pass in stride and laid it in for a score, the ball never touching the ground.
And this is how difficult things were for the Rockets: They went 4 for 20 from the field over a 17-minute stretch spanning from late in the first quarter to early in the third. James had only four points in those minutes, but the Rockets’ drought meant a three-point deficit ballooned to 21.
The Lakers won Game 3 by holding Houston to 38 points in the second half — and set themselves up to win Game 4 by clamping down again, this time in the first half. It was 57-41 Lakers at the break, meaning Houston had scored 79 points in its last 48 minutes of basketball.
For context: The Rockets had 79 points in a two-quarter span on five different occasions this season.
Lakers: When James gets to three wins in a series, it’s usually over. His teams — including the Miami and Cleveland stints — are 13-0 in series with a 3-1 lead, and they’re 36-10 overall in the game immediately following the one where they win the third game. … Dion Waiters (sore left groin) was inactive, but the Lakers are hoping it could be a short-term problem. JaVale McGee sat with a left ankle sprain.
Rockets: Houston is one of the franchises that has overcome a 3-1 deficit, doing so against the Clippers in the second round of the 2015 playoffs. . … Harden went to the line for the first time with 1.3 seconds left in the first quarter; he’s now taken a first-period free throw in 17 of his 18 games in the bubble.
Houston was again without Danuel House, while the NBA probes whether he violated conduct rules inside the bubble. “They’re investigating it and once it’s through they’ll tell us what the deal is and we’ll go with it,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “So, I can’t really comment on it.” House was held out of Game 3 as well.
Game 5 is Saturday.