The Lakers and Rockets Western Conference Semifinals matchup is turning out to be a heavyweight fight on par with the likes of Ali versus Frazier.
The Rockets delivered a knockdown blow in Round 1, but the Lakers got off the mat and punched back in Round 2.
Round 3 was a back and forth slugfest, but the Lakers have cut the Rockets.
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LeBron James scored 36 points and the Los Angeles Lakers rode another big fourth quarter to beat the Houston Rockets, 112-102, in Game 3 on Tuesday night.
Anthony Davis had 26 points and 15 rebounds, including a fadeaway jump shot with 6:54 remaining in the game, that gave the Lakers their largest lead of the game at 99-87.
Unlike Games 1 and 2, which saw each team get off to double-digit leads in the first quarter, neither team was able to take control of the contest as both teams took turns trading power punches throughout the game.
Entering the fourth quarter, the two teams were tied 15 times and there was 16 different lead changes until the Lakers went on a 17-5 run to start the fourth quarter and began to pull away from there.
The two teams were tied after three quarters, 82-82, as James Harden and Russell Westbrook made sure the Rockets remained in the game, combining for 63 points. James blocked an Austin Rivers layup as time expired to keep the game tied entering the fourth quarter.
"For me to be able to protect the rim and get blocks are good momentum plays for us," said James who had four blocks in the third quarter. "Especially in that third quarter when we were going back and forth."
Harden nearly recorded a triple-double, finishing with 33 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. Westbrook had his best game so far of the series, scoring 30 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and dishing out six assists to go along with two steals.
James had a series-high 36 points, four three-pointers, and four blocks. Kyle Kuzma scored 14 off the bench.
"The lift he gives us on both ends with those superhuman plays," said Vogel of James who now has eight total blocks in the series and scored 29 points in the first half on Tuesday. "When he's protecting the rim on that end of the floor and scoring 30 in the half, that's just remarkable."
The return of Rajon Rondo continues to be a benefit to the Lakers the more games he gets under his feet. Rondo completed just his third game in the last six months and was a difference maker, scoring 21 points off the bench, and recording nine assists in the win.
"He worked extremely hard before he got back into the bubble and when he got back into the bubble," said Vogel of Rondo. "When he gets his legs under him, you know what kind of gamer he is this time of the year, and he's been spectacular these last two games."
The Lakers did what they were supposed to do and dominated the glass, outrebounding the smaller Rockets, 43-30.
However, the Lakers struggled from the free throw line, shooting 16-of-23 (69 percent) from the charity stripe, and shot a series-high 30 three-pointers, making just 10 of them.
The Rockets were a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, and were 12-of-30 (40 percent) from three-point range, but they ran out of gas late in the game, as the Lakers turned up their defensive intensity.
Entering the series, the Rockets were a perfect 16-0 this season when shooting at least 40 percent from the three-point line. They have now lost back-to-back games while shooting at least 40 percent from beyond the arc.
"We returned to [defensive] form in the second half," said Vogel. "For whatever reason, we weren't sharp in the first half. We were hesitant with our double teams and our rotations. We weren't happy with how we defended in the first half, and we came out and gave a gutsy and scrappy performance in the second half."
With the victory, LeBron James surpassed Derek Fisher for the most career playoff wins in NBA history with 162.
Game 4 of the series will be Thursday night at 4:00PM PT.