The Rockets certainly have the firepower to take down the top-seeded Lakers in their second-round matchup. James Harden is perhaps the best scorer of his generation, and he's surrounded by a crew of effective three-point shooters. And Harden is far from a one-man band. Russell Westbrook turned in his most efficient year in recent memory in 2019-20, and he flashed his MVP form down the stretch in Game 1 on Friday. Game 2 didn't follow the same blueprint.
Westbrook struggled mightily on Sunday night as Los Angeles tied the series with a commanding 117-109 victory. The 2016-17 MVP tallied just 10 points on 15 shots, and he added seven turnovers along with five fouls. Westbrook's ceiling is that of a superstar player. His floor is often corrosive to his team, especially so in the postseason. We saw the latter version in Game 2.
"Some of them are my fault," Westbrook said postgame regarding his seven turnovers. "Some are missed calls, but it’s on me. I don’t point fingers at nobody else on my mistakes, and that’s that."
Westbrook struggled from the outset on Sunday night. He committed two turnovers in the first quarter, adding a missed three and a missed foul-line jumper. Westbrook's turnovers tell a large part of the story from Game 2. His shot chart explains the rest. Westbrook missed six of his seven three-point attempts. He converted just two layups, and he made only one free throw. Westbrook lived at the rim for much of the latter portion of 2019-20, punishing defenses who doubled James Harden. Houston's point guard couldn't deliver on Sunday night.
Harden and Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni didn't seem concerned about Westbrook postgame. Both acknowledged their confidence in the nine-time All-Star, with D'Antoni noting that Houston can't win the series without its superstar point guard.
"The great thing about [Westbrook] is that he does more to affect the game other than score the basketball," Harden said postgame. "He's so athletic that he can affect it with his defense and his playmaking. He does a variety of things to impact the game."
Despite the positive comments, it's hard not to imagine at least a modicum of concern from the Rockets. The Harden trap isn't going away anytime soon. Los Angeles' stars have found their footing. Houston will need both of its MVPs to play well to pull off a round-two upset, which certainly wasn't the case on Sunday night. The Rockets acquired Russell Westbrook in order to keep up with a superstar duo. Westbrook couldn't raise Houston's ceiling in Game 2.