That the Houston Rockets were even within striking distance of the Los Angeles Lakers in the fourth quarter Tuesday night is remarkable. They only made 12 3-pointers, two more than the Lakers, and that's a stat they need to -- and usually do -- dominate. They only scored 38 points in the entire second half. LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 62 points on 61 percent shooting, and the Lakers shot 55 percent to Houston's 46 percent overall. Rajon Rondo -- Rajon Rondo! -- scored 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 3 of 5 from 3-point land. Danuel House Jr., who has been great for the Rockets, didn't play, and the Lakers' bench outscored Houston's 42-16.
You look at these numbers, and the Rockets shouldn't have had a chance to win Game 3. But they did. They lost 112-102, a close enough final, but even that is deceiving. The game was tied after three quarters. The Rockets had a fourth-quarter lead until Rondo sparked a 13-2 run with two 3-pointers and a steal and finish.
"Playoff Rondo" might still be a thing, but if him hitting 3s and generally throwing it back to his Boston days is what it takes for the Lakers to gain even a sliver of separation from Houston, on a night when LeBron and Davis were about as dominant as you can expect them to be no less, the Rockets have to like their chances to tie this series 2-2 with a win in Game 4, don't they?
The unfortunate thing for Houston is that all of these things -- perhaps with the exception of Rondo playing out of his mind -- feel sustainable. LeBron was nothing short of breathtaking, finishing with 36 points on 57 percent shooting while tallying four 3-pointers and four blocks, the latter coming as part of a virtuoso third-quarter defensive showing -- and if we're being honest, it still feels like he can pull these performances out of his bag on demand.
At this point, marveling at LeBron performing like this at 35 years old, as if to imply there has to be an expiration date on him being the best player in the world, is sort of pointless. Sure, this can't keep up forever, but it's not going anywhere in this series, or for the rest of these playoffs, or probably for at least a few more seasons. The Rockets have to accept his dominance as inevitable and try to win in spite of it.
The same goes for Davis, who is just too big and too great for the miniature Rockets to handle. When he's got his touch going from the mid-range like he does right now, forget about it.
But Houston's defense has been superb in the postseason. The switching and rotating is a real problem for offenses, including the Lakers, LeBron and Davis' excellence notwithstanding. You have to think Mike D'Antoni will make some adjustments heading into Game 4, starting with packing the paint with more bodies to at least show LeBron some congestion on his drives and hopefully have to kick out to shooters.
The Lakers are not a great shooting team. Again, if Rondo is going to be hitting 3s, and combining with Kyle Kuzma to shoot 15 of 21 from the field, the Rockets are in massive trouble. But that's a variable the Rockets can reasonably expect to regress. So what it really comes down to is Houston flipping its own 3-point shooting script. Part of that will be, hopefully, getting House back for Game 4. He missed Game 3 for personal reasons. He's shooting 36 percent from deep in the playoffs. He made 3 of 7 from 3 in Game 2. Even one more threat in a short Houston rotation can make a big difference.
The bigger issue for Houston isn't making 3-pointers, but taking them. They only attempted 30 on Tuesday. They averaged 45 in the regular season. You have to credit the Lakers' defense for a lot of this. They were rotating like crazy in Game 4, particularly in the second half, running guys off the line and recovering with discipline and throwing surprise, quick, late-clock traps at Harden after guarding him straight up for the most part in the first half.
You wonder if D'Antoni will limit Harden's pick-and-rolls moving forward and instead just let him attack one-on-one. The Rockets are looking for advantageous switches, but they're also bringing a second defender to Harden on a conveyor belt. At least make the double come from farther away.
Either way, the Rockets can better force the 3-point shooting issue, and it starts with Russell Westbrook, who finished with 30 points in Game 3, but was pretty terrible in the second half. He's back to settling for way too many mid-range pull-ups. He's fallen back in love with his little bank shot from 15 feet. The Lakers chuckle every time he takes one of those shots, perhaps even more when he makes one or two, because then he'll keep firing.
When the Rockets are clicking, Westbrook is attacking the numbers and space provided by the Harden doubles and either getting to the rim, getting fouled or kicking to shooters. Stop pulling up for jumpers! If Westbrook is disciplined enough to redirect those attempts to better shooters behind the 3-point line, and Houston merely shoots to its averages, there is every reason to believe the Rockets can win Game 4 and still make this a long series, if not win it outright. It's still there for the taking.