Don't let Damian Lillard and the Blazers get hot.
That was the biggest concern among the Lakers coaches and staff entering their first-round playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Lakers had to find a way to contain the hot-shooting backcourt of Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Carmelo Anthony, that had torched teams in the bubble during their nine seeding games prior to the playoffs.
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But there was one question that nobody asked: What happens if the Lakers get hot?
Now we know the answer.
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers made history on Monday as they blew out the Blazers, 135-115, in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead.
The Lakers three-point shooting was criticized after game one, but they were on fire from start to finish in Game 4. The Lakers broke their own franchise record for most three-pointers made in a playoff game (set in Game 2 last Thursday with 14) with 17 (44 percent) on Monday.
"When we're making shots from the perimeter it opens up the paint," said Anthony Davis. "Tonight we were making shots and I was able to get to my spots."
Ironically, the Blazers were just as hot from three-point range, shooting 43 percent from deep in the loss.
LeBron James led the Lakers with 30 points and 10 assists in just 28 minutes of action. Anthony Davis had 18 points in only 17 minutes and did not play much in the second half after suffering back tightness in the third quarter.
"My back is fine. It got a little tight," admitted Davis on the broadcast after the game. "We were playing great basketball and we had a big enough lead that I was able to get my back all the way healthy. There's no question that I'll be playing in Game 5."
Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma had their best games of the series, scoring 14 and 18 respectively, while combining to hit eight three-pointers between them.
Jusuf Nurkic had a team-high 20 points and 13 rebounds for Portland, not a recipe for success for the Trail Blazers. The vaunted backcourt duo of Lillard and McCollum combined for just 29 points, after scoring 55 points in their Game 1 victory over Los Angeles.
The Lakers led from wire to wire, jumping out to a 15-0 lead before the Blazers made their first field goal of the ball game. Los Angeles led by as many as 24 points—Kobe Bryant's jersey number—in the first quarter.
"It was an honor," said LeBron James to play on 8/24, otherwise known as "Kobe Bryant Day." "It's been an honor to just put on a Laker uniform even before the passing of the great Kobe Bryant. Tonight was an honor to wear the uniforms designed by him. To go out there tonight one day removed from his birthday, and on his day 8/24, and get the win was an honor."
In the second half, the Lakers led by as many as 38 points before the Blazers waived the white flag and benched their starters. The 135 points scored were the most by a Lakers postseason team since they scored 141 on June 4, 1987 in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.
""Everybody on the team did their job tonight," said Lakers' head coach Frank Vogel. "They all contributed and it was a great team win."
Portland had to play all nine games before the playoffs began in the bubble like they were elimination games just to make the postseason. Their starters, including Lillard, had to play extended minutes, whereas the Lakers were able to rest theirs after clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference early on.
That difference in minutes played has definitely proven to be important the longer the series has gone on. After stunning the Lakers in Game 1 of the series, the Lakers have looked like the team with more energy and effort in the last three.
In fact, the Blazers have looked tired and fatigued in the second half of their last two losses.
Game 5 of the best-of-seven series is on Wednesday, where the Lakers can close out the Blazers with a victory.
"It's the hardest game of a series," said LeBron of the closeout game on Wednesday. "That's what I know. The team that you're playing is desperate and they're going to give you everything they got because the know they can be sent home. So I have to come in with that same desperate mindset. That's always been my psyche going into a close out game. Hopefully, we can do just that on Wednesday."
Kobe Bryant Day aka Mamba Day
Before the game, when asked how they could honor Laker legend Kobe Bryant the day after his birthday (Aug. 23) and on L.A.'s official "Mamba Day" (Aug. 24 aka 8/24) in honor of Bryant's two jersey numbers worn during his 20-year career with the Lakers, head coach Frank Vogel said, "He would want us to keep our foot on the gas." The Lakers definitely did that in every facet of the game.
The Lakers wore their black and gold "Mamba Jerseys" in honor of Kobe Bryant Day also known as "Mamba Day." The jerseys also featured a patch with No. 2 on it in honor of Bryant's daughter, Gianna, who was also killed in the helicopter crash that took the lives of Bryant, and seven other passengers.
Bryant himself designed the jerseys in 2018 as part of the Lakers lore series. The jerseys feature a black snake skin pattern for Bryant's moniker, the "Black Mamba."
"It was an emotional day for us. We wanted to come out and play with a lot of energy and effort for Kobe and represent him well," said Davis. "We did that from start to finish. We played excellent basketball for all four quarters and were able to get the win for him."
The jerseys were recently re-released by Nike, and sold out in minutes. Others around the league honored Bryant on his birthday on Sunday and on Mamba Day on as James Harden wore a Kobe Bryant t-shirt pregame, Russell Westbrook wore a Kobe Bryant jersey during the game on the bench, Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro also wore a Kobe Bryant shirt prior to the game with the Indiana Pacers.
Memories of Bryant were everywhere throughout the arena and in the game itself. The numbers 24 and 2 were displayed prominently at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and Bryant's logo was featured on the court itself.
"It always seems like when we play there's some Kobe reference," continued Davis. "It's him looking down on us. He's like our sixth man. He's with us for now and forever."
The Lakers jumped out to an early 24-8 lead in the game. They led by 24 points in the first quarter, and J.R. Smith tied Bryant for ninth on the NBA's All-time postseason three-pointers made list with 292.
"I noticed we were up 24 to 8," said James. "When I saw that, I thought to myself, 'Okay, he's here in the building.' It's a beautiful night for our franchise and it's a game we'll always remember."