LeBron James (R) of the Los Angeles Lakers defends James Harden of the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals at the AdventHealth Arena in Orlando, Florida, September 4, 2020. /VCG
The Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 112-97 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Friday, leading 1-0 in the series.
The Rockets were apparently better-prepared for this game. They closed in bravely in defense to testify the Lakers' perimeter shooting and the facts proved that the purple and gold could not punish them from the 3-point line (11-38, 28.9 percent). Meanwhile, by making it crowded below the free throw line, the Rockets managed to limit the Lakers' points in the paint (42), not to mention that they forced 17 turnovers by the opponents via trapping. These turnovers led to 27 points for the Rockets.
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets shoots the ball in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Lakers at the AdventHealth Arena, September 4, 2020. /VCG
The Rockets also made flexible use of their advantage in offense. James Harden is more than capable of tearing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Alex Caruso apart without calling screen. That's why he launched a huge number of isolation attacks in this game and dropped 36 points with decent efficiency.
Though the Rockets did not take as many attempts (39) on Friday as they did usually (45.3) from downtown, they managed to hit the Lakers where it hurt the most: the two corners. P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington, Eric Gordon, Harden and Russell Westbrook together drilled seven corner threes.
The above good work by the Rockets was basically the cause for the Lakers' loss. The team failed to make full use of their size advantage. Their two big-men finishers, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, only played 13 and nine minutes on the court and they did not get much many chances to charge the rim directly.
Robert Covington (R) of the Houston Rockets defends LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals at the AdventHealth Arena, September 4, 2020. /VCG
As the offensive engine of the team, LeBron James lacked aggressiveness on the court. James only took 15 attempts which included seven triples and one 22-foot long jumper. He only drove into the paint seven times but when he did, he was brilliantly 5-7 there. In fact, James spent most of his time in the fourth quarter posting up around the free throw line which was exactly the way the Rockets wanted for him. The Rockets' players are not tall enough but most of them have strong enough lower bodies to tussle with James in the low block, not to mention there's always someone ready to help when James tried to drive in.
The other mistake the Lakers made was with their defense for Harden. The purple and gold tried to cover him one-on-one and only trapped him randomly, which enabled Harden to cook fast and expose the inside big man to him, which was lethal. It's true that the Lakers did not have anyone like Luguentz Dort who could make Harden uncomfortable with one-on-one defense, but trapping Harden early to force him to pass the ball to his teammates to deal with was still the best way of limiting him. Most of the rest of the Rockets' players had very limited options with the ball; Russell Westbrook lacked shooting range and was still not in 100-percent health. The Lakers had enough resources to handle them.
Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball in Game 1 of the Western Confernece Semifinals against the Houston Rockets at the AdventHealth Arena, September 4, 2020. /VCG
The good news for the Lakers was that the Rockets could not deal with Anthony Davis even with their specially-designed defense. Davis was 10-16 to get 25 points and 14 rebounds. He also contributed three steals and three blocks in defense. When Davis had to post up against Tucker or Harden, he was not able to walk over them easily, but when his teammates could find him in off-ball player, Davis can still become the nightmare for the Rockets.
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami heat at the Field House in Orlando, Florida, September 4, 2020. /VCG
Antetokounmpo is an immature MVP, just like Bucks are an immature playoff team
The Milwaukee Bucks again lost to the Miami Heat 115-100 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The regular season's leading team already trailed 3-0 in the series and it's only a matter of time before they get be eliminated.
The good news for Milwaukee was that they got their rim protection back and only allowed 28 points by Miami in the paint. However, the bad news was that they still could not stop the opponents from the 3-point line (18-47, 38.3 percent), not to mention that Milwaukee themselves went only 11-37 from the same area.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (L) of the Milwaukee Bucks defends Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the Field House, September 4, 2020. /VCG
Despite that, Milwaukee still led 87-75 after the first three quarters. Then there was the same scenario again in which Giannis Antetokounmpo was totally outperformed by Jimmy Butler. It's was no secret that the Greek Freak had to find an effective solution to Miami's defense against him. He missed 14 of 21 attempts in this game and went only 2-7 in the last quarter to get only four points. By contrast, Butler though did not make any jumper either in Q4, he was 4-4 under the rim, not to mention that he also created 11 free throws and made nine of them in this quarter.
You could say that this time, Butler defeated Antetokounmpo in the way that people expected from Antetokounmpo himself.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 trail in the playoffs in NBA history. Judging by Milwaukee's performances in the three games they had lost, the team showed no sign of creating a miracle. It's time for both Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee to spend some time thinking about why there was such a striking contrast between the regular season and the playoffs.