Lakers – Rockets Running Diary

LakersRead about the Lakers vs. Rockets game as it unfolds. As always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.

Inactives
Lakers: Luke Walton*, Sun Yue
Rockets: Joey Dorsey, Tracy McGrady, Dikembe Mutombo
*Walton sprained his ankle in Game 4 against Utah, partially tearing the deltoid ligament. He’ll be a game time decision for Wednesday’s game.

Phil Jackson Pregame
Jackson talked about Kobe’s health (“He’s fine”), Walton being inactive, LeBron earning the MVP (deserving in a tight race) but not too much about the Houston Rockets, whom the Lakers happen to be playing at 7:30 p.m.

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ariza, Gasol, Bynum
Rockets: Brooks, Battier, Artest, Scola, Yao

Kobe BryantFirst Quarter
12:00 Tommy Shaw from the band Styx performed the National Anthem, which worried Ty (he thought they were from Canada). Nope. They hail from Chicago … Don’t worry Ty. Meanwhile, TNT’s broadcast played 50 Cent’s “Get Up” as the intro to the game, a song we approve of on Lakers.com.

11:35 Bynum’s first foul came early, on a questionable decision with ‘Drew trying to deflect an entry pass. It looked like he got ball, and though Yao collected and got a free shot up, he was awarded the foul. Bryant, however, answered with an 18-foot jumper to tie the score.

9:43 Bynum picked up his second foul, which would hurt most teams significantly but in this case simply allowed Lamar Odom to see the floor.

8:00 Bryant’s driving layup on Battier, which appeared quite easy, broke a run of five straight misses for the Lakers and tied the score at six. The teams had combined to miss 10 of the first 16 field goal attempts. Meanwhile, on the TV (headphones attached), I recognized Suresh from “Heroes” doing the voice over for a Land Rover commercial. Strange pairing, right?

7:11 Ty made up for his Styx mistake (he was thinking of Rush) with a good basketball point: Gasol’s been sprinting right past Yao in the open court. Ariza missed him on the last possession, but that’s something upon which to keep an eye. Moments later, Odom streaked past Houston’s entire team after grabbing Bryant’s steal of Yao, another key we’ll have to track.

4:45 Nothing emphasized L.A.’s rust having not played for a week more than Fisher’s air ball three. Phil Jackson mentioned at practice that it’s hard for players to keep a good shooting rhythm with time off, and we’ve seen that early with L.A.’s 5-of-15 from the field. Nonetheless, Ariza’s two free throws allowed Houston only a 13-12 lead as Artest had started 3-of-3 from the field.

2:54 Brooks capped a quick 6-0 run with a driving layup that made it 19-12, cementing the idea that Houston was the sharper team to start things off. Bryant, who skipped his usual pregame shooting routine to rest a sore throat, looked to be biding his time a bit, and Sasha Vujacic and Shannon Brown checked in for Ariza and Fisher. Energy boost? Perhaps in a bit, but Vujacic’s first jumper was the seventh straight that L.A. missed, until Gasol stuck a dead-on jumper.

1:06 Vujacic, employing his hyper-active pressure defense, forced Von Wafer to travel, then hit a layup at the other end. You can bet your butt that Vujacic pumped his fist a few times, and to be fair, it was exactly the energy boost L.A. needed. Moments later, Yao picked up his second foul to keep possession for the Lakers, but Vujacic missed an open corner three with about five seconds remaining in the quarter to allow Houston to keep its 21-18 lead.

0:04.3 During a timeout caused by some Battier blood (Vujacic caught him above the eye after tipping out a missed shot), TNT analyst Doug Collins had this to say: “(The Lakers are) getting their basketball legs back again, and I expect them to get better as the games go on.” He pointed out that Houston’s not good at coming from behind and that it was extremely important for them to get off to a good start before L.A. started clicking. It’s a good point, as clearly the Lakers were sluggish to start the game before picking things up in the final two minutes.

ScolaSecond Quarter
11:45 Odom opened the quarter with a slicing lefty hoop that preceded an Ariza throw down in the open court to put the Lakers up 22-21. That happened quickly, which makes sense because the group of Brown-Vujacic-Ariza-Odom-Gasol is among the NBA’s fleetest of foot.

9:57 One thing the Lakers have done really well to start the game is rotate defensively and not give the Rockets and easy looks, and more particularly, any open threes. Such rotation caused sub Brent Barry to take a contested 28-foot desperation three that missed badly. Of course, that didn’t keep Artest from banking in a ridiculous three on their next possession to give Houston a 29-24 lead.

6:36 After about 45 seconds of defense that included a long offensive board, Barry hit a triple to put Houston up 34-26. The energy that had shifted towards the Lakers at the end of the first went right back to the Rockets in part due to Artest’s banker, and in part because L.A. continued to look sluggish on the offensive end. Meanwhile, a “Terminator – Salvation” add went up on the Jumbotron, which was fun since the Governator is in the building.

4:39 The Lakers were more than happy to see Bynum grab Kobe’s miss and stick the ball in the hole with a 15-foot jumper. It was Bynum’s third make in six attempts, plus two boards in six minutes, which is far more production-per-minute than Bynum averaged against Utah (he averaged five points and three boards in the series).

2:11 Bryant’s most assertive offensive move since his drive on Battier swished through the net from 17 feet. It remains hard to tell how much he’s been affected by his sore throat symptoms, as his 3-of-11 shooting wasn’t too far off the team’s 38 percent from the field.

0:01.1 Isolated at the top of the key, Bryant pulled up off a Gasol pick and roll, swishing the jumper to cut Houston’s lead to 43-40 at the half. Much like the first quarter, L.A. struggled to get in a good offensive rhythm in the second, but still managed to hang in thanks to some active defending, trusting that the offense will emerge from its week-long slumber in the second half.

LakersThird Quarter
11:34 Scola opened the second half with a jumper, and the Lakers committed their second straight turnover of the half (10th total) to set up a Yao hook shot that made it 47-40 Rockets. We raised the question in our series preview if Houston were simply happy to be in the second round, but judging from the first 26 minutes, that’s certainly not the case.

8:10 Apparently the week of practice did at least one player good, as Bynum backed up his layup with a quick jumper over Yao to get to 10 points. He was then joined in double digits by Ariza, who pulled his swipe-and-layup routine on Artest to cap an 8-0 run that fired up the crowd and cut Houston’s lead to just a point at 49-48. Timeout, Rockets.

6:59 Brooks scored five-straight points right back with a three and two foul shots. On free throws, Houston has Yao run back before the first so that he doesn’t have to worry about getting back in transition. That makes sense.

5:52 Artest hit the Rockets fifth three, and his fifth, while the Lakers had yet to hit one from the perimeter in eight attempts. That made Houston +15 from three … Until Bryant nailed a triple at the other end, then pulled up again to make it 61-55 Rockets.

2:53 Brooks continued to give L.A. trouble on defense, dribbling around at his uber-quick pace and twice getting all the way to the rim for layups as Bynum stayed locked on Yao. Though Bryant stayed hot with his ninth point in the quarter, Houston took a 65-59 lead into a timeout, out of which Jackson inserted Jordan Farmar in part to deal with Brooks.

1:00 Good thing the Lakers had Kobe Bryant to keep them in the third quarter … the MVP nailed his third straight jumper to get to 13 points in the quarter after he’d scored eight in the first half.

0:02.5 Farmar for three. You have to give him credit for knocking down his first attempt since Game 2 of a Utah series in which he played a total of seven minutes. The shot, from the corner, cut Houston’s 6-point lead in half and made it 70-67 heading into the fourth quarter.

While Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in particular (11 points total) had trouble finding their rhythm, Bryant kept the Lakers in business heading into a quarter that plagued Houston throughout the regular season against the Lakers.

Kobe BryantFourth Quarter
10:07 The early fourth quarter boost came from Odom, who nailed a contested hook, then lofted a beautiful alley-oop to Gasol that made it 74-73 and resulted in an immediate Rockets time out. Even with Bynum playing rather well, L.A. was clearly missing the presence of Odom to start both the first and third quarters, but he shouldn’t see too much of the pine in crunch time. One more point here: Yao seemed to be tiring having to chase Gasol up and down the floor.

8:38 Bryant stayed hot by (9-of-14 since opening 3-of-11) nailing another jumper, which preceded two Brown free throws that gave the Lakers the lead back for the first time since a 24-23 edge early in the second quarter.

6:14 Brooks scored for the first time since his third quarter spurt to cap a 7-0 run that put Houston right back on top, 83-77. Offensive bursts in the fourth quarter are certainly not what Houston’s known for, but was certainly needed as the visitors tried to hold off L.A.’s charge, which would be led by the starters (with Odom staying on for Bynum).

5:40 A big, bad call: Odom picked off a Brooks’ pass and took it the other way for a dunk, but the play was called back by the refs. As it turned out, the replay showed Odom to have stayed in bounds, and to make Lakers fans a bit more mad, Brooks scored again near the hoop for an 8-point lead.

5:00 Yao went down holding his right knee after Bryant drove into him, and the two appeared to knock knees. Yao eventually got up with the help of Houston’s trainers, but struggled to put pressure on the knee before being helped off the floor. However, back in the tunnel (as TNT’s cameras showed), Yao appeared to be moving OK, and returned to Houston’s bench. He did, however, return on Houston’s next possession, with the Lakers down six.

2:53 Fisher missed a wide-open three after Yao nailed a perimeter jumper to cancel out Odom’s leaner, and kept position after Yao’s miss to get a jumper which Artest nailed. Rockets by eight, Lakers in trouble.

2:07 The lead increased to 10 when Yao drew a foul on Gasol, trying to grab an offensive board.

1:40 A tough call went Houston’s way when Fisher appeared to strip Yao, but was called for a reach. Yao nailed his eighth free throw in as many attempts to keep the lead at 10.

0:49.0 L.A. couldn’t buy a three all night, missing for the 15th time in 17 attempts, before Bryant managed a driving layup to get to 30 points. Still, L.A. trailed by seven, and the Rockets had all but sealed an improbable upset.

0:00 Your final score: Rockets 100, Lakers 92.