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How LeBron James sparked the defense in Lakers’ Game 3 win

Lakers forward LeBron James celebrates with teammates Kyle Kuzma, left, and Rajon Rondo during Game 3.
Lakers forward LeBron James, shown with Kyle Kuzma, left, and Rajon Rondo, had four blocked shots in the third quarter.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The first defensive stand the Lakers made in Game 3 against the Houston Rockets came early in the third quarter when LeBron James blocked a shot by Eric Gordon.

That was the Lakers’ defensive awakening, and from that moment to the end of their smothering 112-102 win, the Lakers were unrelenting on Tuesday against the high-scoring Houston Rockets at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.

The Lakers seemingly had a stranglehold on the Rockets in the final 24 minutes, refusing to budge in the slightest when allowing just 38 points in the second half, limiting them to 35.1% shooting from the field.

Make no mistake, it all started with James’ block, with his intensity on defense, with his will and determination to slow down the Rockets so the Lakers could take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven, second-round playoff series.

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He had four blocked shots in the third quarter, the most he has had in a quarter during his 17-year career, whether in the playoffs or regular season.

“Obviously we knew we didn’t play to our capabilities in that first half,” said James, who had 36 points, seven rebounds and five assists as he won the 162nd playoff game in his career to pass former Lakers guard Derek Fisher for the most postseason victories in NBA history.

“We allowed too many straight-line drives. We lost some threes. We had some breakdowns that we didn’t have in Game 2. We was able to come into the locker room and watch the film, see ways we can clean it up and was able to turn the game around in the third quarter from our defense, and that’s what we hang our hats on.”

The Rockets had their way with the Lakers in the first half, especially in the first quarter when they made 68.4% of their shots.

The Lakers yielded 64 points in the first half and found themselves down by three.

But the Lakers turned it around defensively behind James.

He blocked another shot by Gordon later in the third, a shot by James Harden and finished the quarter by blocking Austin Rivers’ shot, which left the score tied at 82-82. The Lakers stymied the Rockets in the third, holding them to 18 points on 30% shooting.

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The Lakers even went small in the third quarter, starting 6-foot-8 forward Markieff Morris at center in place of 7-foot JaVale McGee.

The Lakers’ second-half defense even slowed down Houston’s dangerous backcourt of Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Anthony Davis joined Giannis Antetokoumpo and Rudy Gobert on the NBA All-Defensive first team. Clippers Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley are on second team.

Harden had 33 points, but just 12 in the second half on three-for-seven shooting. Westbrook had 30 points, but just 13 in the second half on five-for-12 shooting.

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“Since training camp, coach [Frank] Vogel and the coaching staff came in and said we wanted to be one of the best defensive teams, if not the best, in the league and that’s where it starts at for us,” James said. “We get stops, we’re able to get out and run and capitalize, and in the third quarter we were able to do that.”

By game’s end, the Lakers had clamped down on defense enough to hold the Rockets to 46.9% shooting overall. The Lakers blocked six shots and had six steals in the final 24 minutes.

“We had to pick it up defensively,” Anthony Davis said. “They were too comfortable in the first half. We were slow on our rotations. We just weren’t ourselves defensively and we tried to come out and impose our will on the defensive end in the second half and we were able to do that.”


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