Heading into Houston certainly looked like a tasty challenge for the Lakers, who were entering an arena that hadn’t seen a home loss in 12 games, not to mention dealing with the absence of a suspended Lamar Odom.
Well, one player the Lakers had in uniform happened to be the MVP.
Kobe Bryant entered Mamba mode in the fourth quarter, leading the Lakers to a come-from-behind victory after they’d trailed by 11 at the half and three heading into the fourth quarter.
In that final period, while L.A.’s aggressive defense kept Houston from continuing an early low-post feast, Bryant’s entire offensive arsenal was on display for a dumbstruck crowd. After Bryant checked into the game with just under seven minutes remaining, a trash-talking Ron Artest irked Kobe enough to incite double technical fouls on the two, and from that point on, Bryant barely missed.
First came an and-1 layup. Then a three-pointer. Next, a slashing, hanging left-handed layup just past Yao Ming’s extended arm. Finally, Bryant nailed a pull-up jumper, plus the foul as he hung in the air, that put L.A. up 92-86 with 1:05 remaining. From that point in, it all came from the line as Bryant swished home his 37th point and delivered L.A.’s first road win in four tries.
The other news coming out of Houston was that Trevor Ariza, who started for Luke Walton, will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, as Phil Jackson explained after the game. Ariza played well in the contest, but Josh Powell – starting for Lamar Odom – left an even larger stamp, amassing season highs in points (17) and rebounds (9) in 35 minutes of burn. He was particularly effective in the second half, totaling 11 points and six boards as L.A. erased Houston’s double-digit halftime lead.
Pau Gasol added 20 points, five boards and four steals while Luke Walton scored eight of the Lakers’ 12 bench points.
But let’s get back to Kobe for a second. In our Lakers Mailbag, posted today, a reader asked a question regarding Michael Lewis’ New York Magazine article that lauded Shane Battier’s defense on Bryant on particular. Well, the first time these teams played in Houston, Kobe scored 34 points, along with tonight’s 37. Battier was almost completely ineffective on Bryant, and Artest no better, which had the L.A. media calling the article’s bluff outside of the postgame locker room.
After all, nobody was stopping Bryant.
Houston’s crowd, the fourth-largest crowd in team history, though the building was quite a bit quieter
Points off the bench by former Lakers guard Von Wafer to lead Houston in scoring.
More points scored by L.A. than Houston in the second half.
Houston’s home winning streak heading into the game, having not lost since a Jan. 28 game against Philadelphia.
Steals for both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. L.A. totaled 15 steals, helping to cause Houston’s 23 turnovers.
Free throws attempted by the Lakers through three quarters.