Lakers – Rockets Running Diary 2

Lamar OdomRead 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.

Game 1
Lakers – Rockets Running Diary, May 4, 2009
Lakers 92, Rockets 100: Postgame

Inactives
Lakers: Adam Morrison*, Sun Yue
Rockets: Joey Dorsey, Tracy McGrady, Dikembe Mutombo
*Luke Walton’s active for the first time since Game 4 of the Utah series when he injured his left ankle.

Losing A Good Thing?
For whatever reason, the 2008-09 Lakers have at times needed a reason to bring their best effort, like: Proving that they can beat Boston; proving that they can beat Boston IN Boston; becoming the first team to beat Cleveland at home; or beating the Spurs and Rockets on the road after a few losses. For whatever reason, Game 1 against the Rockets didn’t seem to bring the sense of urgency that L.A. can often win without … And it cost them. Yet, perhaps the anger/annoyance that resulted from Monday’s loss is the best thing that could have happened to the Lakers … If the team had managed a fourth quarter comeback after a sluggish first three periods, would they have really learned a lesson, or would Phil Jackson’s squad have once again figured it could always get by in the end? We’ll see momentarily exactly how the purple and gold were affected.

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ariza, Odom*, Gasol
Rockets: Brooks, Battier, Artest, Scola, Yao
*Odom replaces Andrew Bynum among L.A.’s starters, which we wrote about HERE.

Kobe BryantFirst Quarter
12:00 The man in the center of L.A.’s pregame huddle, Lamar Odom, walked a good seven city blocks from his downtown place to the arena tonight. In related news, it was hot out today. Good thing Odom’s is a physical freak, and doesn’t seem to get tired. The bottom line with him starting is he’s simply playing better basketball than Andrew Bynum, in addition to the points we linked to before.

11:44 Is Fisher hitting a perimeter jumper a harbinger for the evening? Only 47:16 remaining to find out. Another good sign? The best play-by-play/analyst combo in the business is back in the house: TNT’s Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins. Fortunately, I remembered my headphones so I can listen to the call on the press row monitors.

10:00 Gasol watched Bryant nail a jumper a possession earlier, ran down the court and swatted Brooks in the lane, then hit a turnaround jumper on Yao. Next came another jumper from Bryant, and L.A. was 4-for-4. Next into the action was Ariza, with a powerful flush in Scola’s face to put L.A. up 10-6 as the purple and gold remained perfect from the field.

7:08 Lakers on fire. Entirely fluid, entirely silky on offense, with a Gasol dunk from Odom and a step-back J from Kobe to put L.A. up 16-8 on the heels of some active pressure defense. “A much different team than we saw in Game 1,” said Doug Collins, TNT’s analyst.

6:38 Artest, who hit quite a few end-of-shot clock shots in Game 1, hit another, from three, but Bryant immediately answered at the other end to get to 10 points (on pace for 80).

5:08 As I watched Pau Gasol streak ahead of the pack, catch and flush an alley-oop from Odom, Ty pointed out that Yao was dragging several feet behind the entire fastbreak off a turnover (Ming played 40 minutes on Monday). Though Scola hit a jumper, Ariza and Bryant nailed back-to-back triples that put L.A. up 29-16.

Flame Throwing Early: That was 29 points in eight minutes for L.A. on 86 percent shooting (13-of-15). Good post on Ty’s twitter from a fan: “Shane Battier better stop, drop and roll.” Clearly his hand in the face defense wasn’t doing much to Kobe, who had 13 points. Meanwhile, Harlan and Collins dominating the call.

2:42 Gasol spent the last two days talking about how aggressive he’d be against Yao, and he’s sure proven it in the first quarter. First came a beautiful spin move in the lane that finished with a big slam, then another spin move off the baseline that drew Yao’s second foul and gave Gasol 11 points to just two for Yao. Lakers by 15, as Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar checked in off the bench.

1:21 As soon as Yao sat down, Houston reeled off a 7-0 run that Gasol stopped with a tip in to join Bryant with 13 points. Interestingly, it was Josh Powell and not Bynum that came in for Gasol (Houston was really small with Scola and Landry at the four and five). Alas, two Walton free throws and Kobe’s seventh make in 11 attempts (15 points) put L.A. up 39-25.

In short, the Lakers controlled the pace, got a lot of good looks out of their offense, and nailed 72.7 percent of their attempts (16-of-22). Houston shot well also (10-of-18, 55 percent), but it didn’t matter. The Lakers handled the glass (10-3), and to me the biggest difference was Gasol’s aggressive nature, which produced a 5-of-5, three rebound, 13-point effort that was crucial.


Pau GasolSecond Quarter
12:00 To match Houston’s small ball group of Brooks and Kyle Lowry with Von Wafer at the three, Jackson went with Farmar and Shannon Brown, plus Vujacic, Odom and Bynum.

10:24 Houston’s bench looked a bit like L.A.’s starters to open the second, getting back-to-back threes from Brooks and Wafer (who added a jumper) to quickly cut the lead to eight. A really poor start, to put it mildly, for a group of bench players that hadn’t played together in a while. Bynum continued to look quite tentative on both ends, showing late on defense and passing up what might have been a dunk by passing to Odom.

6:50 Brown began to flash the energy that helped L.A. so much down the stretch of the season by hustling back on defense and exploding into the air to swat what would have been an easy layup, hitting an open three from Bryant, and hustling back again to strip Landry on another layup opportunity. Brown pushed the ball up the floor after the steal and found a wide-open Walton for what would have erased any momentum Houston’s bench had built, but Walton missed. Still, Brown’s spark put had L.A. up 48-39 as the starters (Powell for Odom) checked back in.

4:52 Some solid ball movement got Artest an open look from three after he pump faked Gasol past him, and Ron-Ron received a tough reach call when Ariza appeared to strip him clean (STAPLES irate on the replay) to suddenly cut the lead to one.

3:55 When did Artest become a brilliant jump shooter? After a solid Game 1, he nailed 5-of-8 shots, including three triples, the latest of which put Houston on top. L.A.’s bench effectively killed any momentum built by the starters, and the Lakers stopped doing what had made them so good early against Houston’s small lineup. Here’s some evidence: Yao and Luis Scola were both -14, while Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes were +15.

Meanwhile, here’s what L.A.’s coaches have to be frustrated about: Gasol barely touched the ball while being guarded by Hayes.

0:52.0 Landry, inexplicable, outscored the Lakers himself in the quarter to this point, 15-14. Huh? Is that the most ridiculous stat ever?

0:04.5 Who but Bryant could return some positivity to L.A. heading into the locker room with a three to tie the game. Still, Houston erased a 14-point lead heading into the quarter.

There’s no good way to explain the period, but here’s a try: The bench killed L.A.’s momentum; the starters returned to face an entirely unconventional junk lineup featuring three power forwards at the 3 (Artest), 4 (Landry), and 5 (Hayes); L.A. stopped running its offense, and missed open looks (Ariza, Fisher and Walton [2] all missed completely barren threes). That quarter (18 points) was as bad as the first quarter was good. Which will we see in the third and fourth periods?

ArizaThird Quarter
11:42 I think Houston found its biggest matchup advantage for the rest of the series: Artest going at Ariza. Artest is simply too strong, yet still good enough off the dribble to go anywhere he wants on the floor with L.A.’s No. 3. His opening drive earned 1-of-2 free throws … Though Ariza then hit 1-of-2 at the other end.

10:10 Bryant’s jumper backed up a Fisher three for a quick 5-0 run that made it 63-58 Lakers, but it was Artest with the answer on a driving finger roll.

9:14 “This guy cannot guard me.” – Kobe Bryant, to Collins, after hitting again on Battier. A possession later, he did it again, his 12th hit in 19 attempts (26 points), mostly from the perimeter. Collins’ response: “(Kobe’s here saying) ‘Everybody get on board here … I’m not going to let us get overtaken by this Rockets team.’” Gasol then drove right past Yao, like in the first quarter, to put L.A. up nine.

7:02 Odom capped an 8-0 run with two free throws over Yao, who picked up his fourth foul and checked out with an obscene -24. Artest, who’d been just fantastic all night, nailed another end-of-clock contested three, but Bryant answered to keep the lead at 10.

3:53 Ron Artest shot 40 percent from the field in the regular season and 34 percent from three, but somehow can no longer miss, hitting another three to make it 79-71 (would have been 72, but an earlier Artest three was reviewed and called a two).

1:31 Not one sub had entered the game for the Lakers until Vujacic finally replaced Ariza. Think Phil liked the first half effort? Houston, meanwhile, came in with Landry, Lowry, Wafer and Hayes (plus Battier) with L.A. holding an 81-74 lead.

1:03 Bryant left the floor with 32 points on 13-of-21 (12 in the quarter) in favor of Walton after Fisher hit three free throws (on a triple attempt) to put L.A. up 10. Walton then did what he does, feeding Odom with a pretty pass out of a triangle cut for a layup.

0:29.3 Scola held onto Odom’s jersey too long after a two-point foul, and Walton jumped over in Odom’s defense as Scola began to trash talk with Odom. Odom walked away, yet Joey Crawford hit both Lakers with T’s. Thus, Houston got a free throw, which Battier made, and Odom missed both free throws.

0:13.2 One may have thought the Scola scuffle was over there, but instead, Fisher elbowed Scola and received a flagrant two foul, an automatic ejection from the game.

The final result was a 86-77 Lakers lead that may have been 88-74 had Odom simply hit the free throws, yet on the other side, it wasn’t the worst thing for the Lakers to see themselves sticking up for one another.

Fourth Quarter
11:50 L.A.’s favorite inbounds play looked perfect … Up until the point where newly-checked in Bynum missed the uncontested dunk. The Lakers need something from their young center, but could he get it going? Meanwhile, the lineups: Farmar, Vujacic, Walton, Odom and Bynum vs. Brooks, Lowry, Artest, Landry and Yao.

9:55 Fabulous play from Farmar, who stripped Brooks, then managed to throw the ball ahead from his back to a streaking Walton, who laid the ball off to Vujacic for two. Then it was Odom who stripped a Rocket (Artest), pushing to Farmar for a layup of his own to put L.A. up 92-81.

8:37 Just like Game 1, L.A. fell into the bonus very early, as the Lakers looked like the road team in getting called for all kinds of reaches and bumps (Joey Crawford, anyone?) While Yao missed 1-of-2, Houston grabbed the offensive board over Bynum, who then fouled Yao and put him right back at the line. Quick, free three points for Houston.

7:36 Hated this possession for L.A.: Bryant dribbled for a while, trying to get a screen from Gasol, who wasn’t even looking for his shot despite the fact that he’d been murdering Yao all night (and Yao had four fouls). To be fair, the play call was obviously for Bryant.

6:57 The extremely heated second half grew weirder as Artest ultimately got ejected after being called for a personal going for an offensive board, then chasing Bryant down at the other end of the court in apparent protest of an elbow? No one really saw it and TNT didn’t have a replay, but nonetheless, Bryant made the technical and Gasol tipped in a Walton miss to put L.A. in control at 97-84. Craziness. Is CT in the building? To add to the boiling pot of weird stew, Von Wafer apparently was sent to the locker room by his head coach, Rick Adelman, for arguing about something? What’s going on in here? Is Dennis Rodman in the building? Britney Spears? Amy Winehouse?

4:16 Kobe went ahead and threw the ball off glass … to himself … and laid it in to put L.A. up 104-90. “How in the world did he do that?” wondered Harlan. Silliness. That’s actually something we’ve seen before from Kobe, but in the context of a ridiculous fourth quarter, it was almost fitting. ”

2:55 Farmar dropped a three to put L.A. up 15, and then just rimmed out on the next possession, which would have added some emphasis to a nice spark from the backup guard.

1:00 Brown and Walton’s layups eventually led to a 111-98 victory in the oddest of playoff games that ultimately got L.A. what it was looking for: A victory.

Game 3, which is set for Friday night in Houston, will certainly be interesting.