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With just over seven seconds remaining in the third quarter of L.A.’s crucial Game 3 contest with the Rockets, Houston’s crowd began a chant: “Kobe sucks! … Kobe sucks!”
Well, that never seems to be a good idea, does it? After all, trash talk to Kobe is like Beethoven to Jamie Foxx’s character in “The Soloist.” He loves it.
Sure enough, Bryant’s response – a beautifully arched 33-foot three-pointer that put his Lakers up 12 heading into the fourth quarter – swished L.A. into pole position heading into the fourth, where he and his teammates never let Houston smell blood. As such, L.A. had regained its home court advantage.
“It was good going into the fourth quarter with momentum,” said Bryant. “It was a big play for us. We finished the quarter off in the right way.”
But make no mistake about it: L.A. won this game with its defense, which swarmed around like a pack of hungry bees around Yao Ming and Houston in general in that third quarter, holding the Rockets to 14 points on 6-of-25 shooting (24 percent) in building a lead. As fourth quarter scoring had been a problem throughout the season for the Rockets, the defensive surge was almost a death blow.
“Our intensity picked up in the third quarter and we contested every shot they took,” said Lamar Odom, who twice swatted Yao at the start of the third. “We played defense the way we know we can. We had to pick it up defensively to try and take away their easy shots.”
To be fair, any postgame article about Game 3 should have no more paragraphs that don’t mention the name of Jordan Farmar, who stepped into the suspended Derek Fisher’s shoes in a big way despite barely seeing minutes throughout the postseason. Sure, Bryant had amassed 33 points and Odom had contributed a 16-13 double-double, but Farmar’s 12 points, seven assists, five boards and only one turnover in 33 minutes were crucial. Furthermore, if Bryant’s three was the game’s biggest shot, Farmar’s mini-run-stopping baseline jumper with 3:54 to play – Houston had scored back-to-back buckets to cut the lead to six – was its second. That was it.
“I was very excited to get the opportunity and happy it worked out the way it did,” said Farmar. “I controlled the tempo of the game and got the ball to the right players at the right time. It really felt good,”
“I’m proud of him,” added Bryant, summarizing in four words what each of Farmar’s teammates reiterated in the locker room. The single turnover committed by Farmar was emblematic of the entire team, who conceded just six for the entire game. On the other hand, L.A. forced 17 Rockets turnovers, which allowed the Lakers to overcome a 56-43 Rockets edge on the glass and a cold-shooting Bryant in the second half (5-of-15).
Meanwhile for the Rockets, Ron Artest struggled from the perimeter as he did in the regular season after two excellent shooting games in L.A., and Yao Ming appeared to be limping on a tweaked ankle that could possibly keep him out of Game 4. That would be about the worst news Houston could receive, but Artest’s missing 1-of-12 jump shots rather badly before two last-minute makes certainly wasn’t a good sign.
Yet and still, the strong overall performance from the Lakers backed up a similarly impressive display at STAPLES Center in Game 2, making Game 1 seem like the aberration in the series that remains at the Toyota Center for Sunday’s afternoon contest.
Until then, some numbers:
Fastbreak points for the Rockets.
Team other than the Lakers who beat the Rockets at home since Jan. 28, alongside 21 Houston victories (San Antonio). Unfortunately for Houston, L.A. won two of those, and is a perfect 3-for-3 in their building for the season.
Blocks for Kobe Bryant to lead the Lakers, who out-swatted Houston 9-3. Bryant added two steals, six boards, three assists and not a single turnover to his game high 33 points.
Turnovers for the Lakers, thanks in part to a great floor game by Jordan Farmar, who turned the ball over just once in 33 minutes while dishing out seven assists.
Three pointers made by the Lakers, who hit just two in the Game 1 loss. Kobe Bryant led the way in making 4-of-6, while Trevor Ariza (3-of-4), Lamar Odom (2-of-2), Luke Walton (1-of-2) and Sasha Vujacic (1-of-3) all got wet from deep.
Rockets points in the decisive third quarter, while L.A. put up 24 to take a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Rockets turnovers forced by the Lakers, resulting in 20 points for the road team. Trevor Ariza led the way with four steals, all of which came in the first half.
Points in the paint for Houston, where as L.A. converted only 32.