Lakers 111, Rockets 98: Postgame 2

Kobe Bryant - battierIt’s a good thing so many Hollywood film producers and screen writers were sitting courtside during one of the more interesting Round 2 games in recent memory.

After all, it took a real expert to follow the simultaneous drama on the floor as the Lakers pulled off what was ultimately a convincing victory amidst a plethora of story lines as the Rockets repeatedly refused to go down without a fight (almost literally).

Before we get down to the four acts (a.k.a. “quarters”), let’s hand out some awards:

Best Performance in a Leading Role: Kobe Bryant, and not just for his game-high 40 points, but because he was consistently deadly in hitting 16-of-27 shots (59.2 percent) on Shane Battier, many of them jumpers. More than once, Bryant said: “He can’t guard me.” Yeah, well, that was pretty clear. By the way, Bryant now needs just three points in Game 3 to pass Larry Bird on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring chart.
Best Performance in a Leading Role: Oops, already gave that one out? Too bad, because Pau Gasol was just as important to the game’s outcome, abusing Yao Ming’s defense (9-for-13, 22 points, three early fouls) and effectively fronting the Chinese tree at the other end (3-of-4 in 26 minutes).
Best Performance in a Losing Role: Ron Artest, who was fantastic right up to the point where he got himself thrown out for running the length of the court after Bryant in the fourth quarter, apparently upset about what he thought was an elbow as the two battled for a rebound (the video replay looked more like a box out to the amateur eye). Still, Artest put up 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from the line, plus five assists to lead the Rockets.
Best Jekyll and Hyde Performance: L.A.’s bench, who almost immediately allowed Houston’s second unit to erase a 14-point Lakers lead heading into the half, before coming up big at the start of the fourth quarter to boost the starters on to victory.
Strangest 17 seconds in the 2009 Playoffs (Best Instigator): Luis Scola. Not only did the Argentinean draw technicals on both Lamar Odom and Luke Walton after hanging on to Odom’s jersey for too long after he fouled the lanky lefty, but then drew what looked like an elbow to the chest* from Derek Fisher on the ensuing possession, leading to Fisher being called for a flagrant two foul (automatic ejection).
*After the game, Fisher said he anticipated that Scola would screen him hard, and was planning on running hard through the pick since L.A. had a foul to give and Houston’s bigs had been hitting the Laker guards hard on that particular play. There is no automatic suspension for a flagrant two regarding the next game in the series.

As for the game itself? Let’s start with Act 1.

Pau GasolAct 1: The Onslaught The Lakers stormed out of the gate on an absolute mission that may have been entitled “Operation Offensive Destruction.” Nailing 16-of-22 shots (72.7 percent) behind 15 points from Kobe Bryant and 13 from Pau Gasol, the Lakers immediately began to utilize their considerable basketball talent, looking as if they’d fully awoken from their week-long slumber. Houston shot 56 percent, but was outrebounded by seven and looked helpless as L.A. scored 11 fastbreak points. Gasol dominated Yao, spinning and scoring with ease and effectively fronting at the defensive end after Ming went for 28 being played straight up in Game 1.

“We knew that there was a strong possibility that they would start Odom and that matchup out there and there nothing we can do about it,” said Rockets head coach Rick Adelman after the game. “Yao’s just got to do a better job (to) stay out of foul trouble and know that he’s facing guy that’s more active and is going to put it on the floor and attack the basket on him.”

Act 2: The Bench Collapse The Lakers bench entered, and promptly got hammered by Houston’s pine crew, erasing L.A.’s 14-point lead and actually ceding a three-point lead until Bryant hit a late triple to tie things up heading into halftime. It wasn’t so much the lead, but L.A.’s mojo, that had been snatched. Carl Landry almost outscored the Lakers by himself (no typo), even as he missed five free throws to finish with 16 points in 11 minutes. L.A. had just 15 until Bryant’s bomb, and shot 33.3 percent while turning the ball over four times.

Act 3: The Onslaught (Remix) L.A.’s starters jumped all over Houston once again in the third, again spurred by Bryant and Gasol, to build another 10-point lead as Yao went to the bench with four fouls and a -25 rating. The end of the quarter produced three technical fouls and Fisher’s flagrant two, not to mention Adelman’s dismissal of Von Wafer to the locker room apparently due to an argument. Huh (no comment after the game)? The action in the final 30 seconds got Houston three points and cut L.A.’s lead to to nine, almost disguising the fact that L.A. won the quarter 29-20 to take control of the game.

Act 4 (Two Part Play): The Coffin Slam – Off Glass
Artest’s ejection came with L.A. up 10 and 6:57 left on the clock, perhaps eliminating any further comeback attempt from Houston, who in all likelihood wasn’t in good shape regardless. Two minutes later, STAPLES saw Bryant’s alley-oop to himself off glass with Battier lunging in futility behind his back, which put L.A. up 14. Pretty silly. That play got him to 40 points, and Houston would never get closer than 12 again.

With Game 3 set for Friday night in Houston, we’re left with only the numbers:

Minutes played by Andrew Bynum, who missed both shots he took and committed three fouls against Yao Ming. If there was a major negative point in L.A.’s game and the series, it’s that L.A. continues not to get much help from their young center who’s still trying to regain his confidence subsequent to his injury comeback.

L.A.’s advantage on the second half scoreboard.

Assists for the Rockets, who struggled to move the ball against L.A.’s aggressive defense.

First half points from Ron Artest, who was uncharacteristically shooting the ball with precision, going 5-for-9 after hitting 8-of-15 shots in Game 1 with a total of six made threes. He shot just 40.1 percent in the regular season and 34.2 from three.

Turnovers by Houston, leading to 23 Lakers points. This stat was hugely impactful on the game, and highlighted L.A.’s defensive activity (10 steals, eight blocks to eight total from Houston). The Lakers turned the ball over only 11 times for 11 Rockets points.

Pau Gasol’s shooting percentage on 9-of-13. Gasol thoroughly handled the Game 1 star, Yao Ming, who had no answer for the Spaniard’s quick-action spin moves, 15-footers and turnaround hooks. Gasol also got Ming in foul trouble, limiting him to 26 minutes after he’d played for 40 on Monday.

L.A.’s shooting percentage in a fantastic first quarter, led by Kobe Bryant’s 7-for-11 (15 points) and Pau Gasol’s 5-of-5 (13 points), producing a 39-25 Lakers lead.