James quickly identified the opening between them and charged into the lane for an uncontested basket.
That was the final play of the third quarter on Sunday night, two points that foretold what was coming in the fourth.
He turned a two-point deficit into a 117-109 victory for the Lakers, who leveled their series with the Houston Rockets, one game apiece.
The difference between this game and the previous one was obvious: James showed up.
“My teammates look to me to try to be aggressive,” James said, “either by getting myself shots or getting my teammates shots.”
He did both, and more.
Two days after James attempted only three shots and was held scoreless in the fourth quarter of a Game 1 loss, he confirmed what was suspected before the series.
The height-deprived Rockets don’t have an answer for him.
Or for Anthony Davis.
Which gives the Lakers a sizable advantage as they move forward.
This game was close and the series is now tied, but based on the personnel of the two teams, it’s hard to imagine the Rockets beating them three more times.
James finished with 28 points, Davis with 34, and when they attack the rim the way they did in Game 2, the Rockets simply can’t stop them.
The 6-foot-10 Davis shot over him and danced around him.
The Rockets crowded the lane?
The 6-foot-9 James muscled his way through them.
Then came the fourth quarter and James completely dominated them.
When the period started, the Lakers were down, 92-90. Davis was on the bench.
James opened the period by blowing by Westbrook and dunking on Green.
He started a fast break, which he punctuated with a thunderous alley-oop dunk. He swatted a shot by Westbrook. He pulled down a rebound, pushed the ball up court and fed Alex Caruso for an easy finish. He drove the basket and forced Robert Covington to foul him, which led to two made free throws. He backed in 6-foot-3 Eric Gordon and made a fadeaway jumper over him.
“I got an opportunity to see a couple seams, able to attack the rim and also find a couple guys as well,” James said.
In the fourth quarter alone, James had eight points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.
And here’s what has to be especially troubling for the Rockets: James looked as if he had more in reserve.
“Tonight, it was what I expected from those two guys,” Danny Green said. “They are going to bounce back to All-Star level. LeBron led the charge. AD was huge on both ends of the floor for us. Everything you expect from a superstar.”
The Lakers were determined to help Davis find an offensive rhythm early, as he scored 11 of their first 13 points.
“Just trying to get closer to the basket and play a little quicker,” Davis said.
Mindful of how the Rockets defended Davis in Game1, coach Frank Vogel said, “We tried to get the ball to him more on the move and that allowed him to kind of catch and go.”
His early success created openings for others.
Markieff Morris was afforded some open looks, which he exploited to make four three-pointers in the opening period, after which the Lakers were ahead, 36-20.
“They just hit us in the mouth,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We didn’t play with enough intensity to match their fire.”
Many of the openings were created by reserve point guard Rajon Rondo, who was playing in his second game in nearly six months.
Rondo’s contributions went beyond the 10 points, nine assists and five steals he registered.
He relieved James as the team’s primary ball-handler at times, which helped set up James for his late-game heroics.
“He was super aggressive, doing what he always does,” Morris said. “He led the team, blocking shots, catching lobs, just doing what it takes to win. It’s hard not to follow behind him.”
Most likely, the Lakers will be following him to the next round.
Hernández reported from Los Angeles.
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