After a clinical win Tuesday (US time), the Los Angeles Lakers should be oozing with confidence entering Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets Thursday.
But that’s far from the mindset they want to bring as LeBron James and co. look to go up 3-1 in their series.
“Every time you lose a game in the playoffs your group is super desperate, and if you lose two in a row it just heightens even more,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who lost the opener before beating the Rockets back-to-back.
“We know they’re going to come out with the ‘backs against the wall’ mindset and really execute and play extremely hard on both ends of the floor, and play with desperation.
“We’ve got to make sure that we match that.”
James and fellow playoff veteran Rajon Rondo provided the Lakers a huge lift in Game 3, with James tallying 36 points, 29 in the first half, while Rondo’s shooting and playmaking in the fourth quarter helped Los Angeles seal the victory.
But the Lakers left their mark more importantly on defense, which held the normally high-octane Houston offense to just 38 points in the second half.
James finished with 4 blocks and his aggressiveness on that end of the court set the tone for Los Angeles.
“That’s what we hang our hats on,” said the 4-time league MVP said, who became the winningest player in NBA playoff history after Game 3.
“Since training camp, coach (Frank) Vogel and the coaching staff came in and said we want to be one of the best defensive teams if not the best in the league. And that’s where it starts for us.”
The Rockets’ main guys still had their way on offense, as James Harden finished with 33 points and Russell Westbrook had 30, but Houston as a whole played conservatively from long distance.
Collectively, the Rockets shot just 30 times from the 3-point area, a number much lower than what they usually hoist.
Houston went 14 of 39 from downtown in Game 1, then 22 of 53 in Game 2.
“Our pace (was poor). We weren’t in attack mode,” Harden said.
“They did a good job of trapping and we didn't make them pay for it.”