Lakers – Rockets Running Diary 3

HoustonRead 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

Game 2
Lakers – Rockets Running Diary, May 6, 2009
Lakers 111, Rockets 98: Postgame

Inactives
Lakers: Adam Morrison, Derek Fisher*, Sun Yue
Rockets: Joey Dorsey, Tracy McGrady, Dikembe Mutombo
*Fisher was suspended for one game following his elbow of Luis Scola in Game 2.

Pregame Video
After hearing from Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, we spent a few minutes with assistant coach Jim Cleamons to get prepped for Friday night’s 6:30 p.m. L.A. tipoff against Houston in Game 4. Clem addressed L.A.’s need for an aggressive Pau Gasol (”the entire team wants Pau to be aggressive at times”) and spoke about how the Lakers can improve upon what they’ve been doing.

Brown, Farmar To Fisher: “We got you”
Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar preempted any need for Derek Fisher to put down words of wisdom heading into a game for which the veteran is suspended with a simple, collective phrase: “We got you.” Though L.A.’s offense will just as readily call upon Kobe Bryant, Sasha Vujacic and Lamar Odom to handle the ball, Brown and Farmar will surely see an increase in minutes in Fisher’s absence, and both said they’re confident and excited to help their team … And to gain the approving nod of their captain in the process.

Starters
Lakers: Farmar, Bryant, Ariza, Odom, Gasol
Rockets: Brooks, Battier, Artest, Scola, Yao

KobeFirst Quarter
12:00 The Rockets put out free Toyota t-shirts (that also mentioned the Rockets) … But only covered the length of the court in the lower bowl. In related news, TV cameras shoot along the length of the court. Meanwhile, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child (the one you don’t remember) sang the anthem, and while her voice is obviously quite good, the volume needed to come down about three levels. At the other end of the spectrum, Houston’s pregame video was tight, showcasing some serious graphical work.

11:51 Do teams not scout this play, or what? The alley-oop back pick works nearly every time for L.A., and this time saw Odom throw down a lofted Ariza pass. Yao then had his pocket picked by Farmar, before the Spaniard hit a 15-foot jumper over Yao, and Bryant a jumper over Battier to put L.A. up 6-0.

9:36 Bryant’s three-pointer pushed him past Larry Bird to 6th place on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list.

9:13 Back-to-back deep jumpers saw nothing but net from Kobe, the first a three-pointer in Artest’s face (Ron switched the Odom pick), and L.A. was up 11-4. Odom’s hoop a minute later found the Lakers up 13-5 on 6-of-8 shooting, and it was all coming quite easily on offense for the purple and gold.

7:10 Houston was having trouble getting good shots until Battier hit a three that preceded one from Artest, quickly pulling Houston back into the game at 13-11. We know that Artest isn’t a great perimeter shooter, but he’s been one in this series.

5:25 How did Houston stay in the game? Threes, hitting their third straight (Brooks) to tie things at 18. L.A. did answer with a layup from Odom and dunk from Ariza, Trevor’s courtesy of a terrific effort play from Farmar. Meanwhile, Bryant hit over Yao and around Battier, his fifth make in six shots. The “You can’t guard me” didn’t come out of his mouth, but everyone heard it.

2:47 The first timeout came with L.A. shooting 66 percent (12-of-18), signifying one thing: Houston hasn’t been able to stop L.A.’s starters for two straight games. Bryant had 11 and Odom eight, while Farmar had three assists without a turnover, and Jackson kept the starters on floor with L.A. up 26-20.

1:23 Yao hit his third shot of the quarter and second in a row to cap a 6-0 Rockets run that tied the game. He’s getting better post position on Pau, and the Rockets are doing a better job of feeding him than in Game 2.

0:22.0 Gasol hit another jumper over Yao to follow a Farmar dunk in transition, but you have to give Yao the center matchup after Pau dominated him in Game 2. Ming scored eight points with two boards, Gasol four and two. Overall, it was a very effective offensive quarter for the Lakers, who shot 61 percent for 30 points, but Houston also made a wide variety of shots to get 28 of their own. The good news for L.A.? The game was played at its pace.

PauSecond Quarter
“LOS ANGELES YOU ARE NOW IN CLUTCH CITY HOME OF THE HOUSTON ROCKETS YOU WILL BE DEFEATED” read a huge yellow and red banner that Houston’s very nice (like a baby) looking red teddy bear pointed to while walking as the crowd chanted.

11:30 Odom’s swat of Scola, second of the game, and a Bynum layup was a good way for L.A. to start the second quarter … Two days ago, the bench blew a 14-point lead the Lakers starters had built.

10:21 A tough pull-up J from Shannon Brown put L.A. up 35-32; joining him on the floor were Vujacic, Walton, Odom and Bynum, a group that looked well full of defensive energy in its opening two minutes. In other Brown news, even from the top of the lower bowl, I can see that his hand makes the round orange object look like a golf ball.

9:16 Odom, Vujacic and Bynum committed three fouls in 13 seconds. It’s the opposite of a good idea for L.A. to get in early foul trouble against a team that struggles to score at times, because what’s easier than free throws?

8:20 Bynum’s offensive board and putback basically meant he’d already produced more than he had in Game 2 (four points, three boards). Now, to be fair, his pick and roll defense isn’t the best in the NBA, and Lowry took advantage by finding Carl Landry for a dunk.

6:03 After a Brown jumper, Walton received a personal foul for knocking Lowry down going for a steal, then got a technical for a reason I’m unable to explain? Standing still with Lowry on the ground? Alas Yao’s free throw made it 42-39 Lakers. By the way, Brown and Bynum were a combined 4-of-4 off the bench, but Walton and Vujacic were 0-for-5. I spoke to Brown before the game, and he said the biggest difference between his regular season numbers and postseason stats is that Bryant and Gasol get him wide open looks after being double teamed.

5:46 How do those early fouls hurt your team? Well, Bryant’s reach on Yao put him at the free throw line with the clock running down. Then Odom got unlucky in bumping Landry on a rebound, and Houston quickly had the lead on four free points. They’d taken 13 free throws to just two for the Lakers, and Odom would have to sit for the rest of the half as Josh Powell checked in (Powell, however, had a great game for L.A. with Odom out the last time these teams were here, putting up 17 and nine).

2:25 The Lakers hadn’t hit a field goal since the 6:06, including five straight misses from Bryant (6-of-12), and trailed 45-43 into a timeout. In unrelated news, R.I.P. “Duel 2″ Issac … But don’t worry, you’ll be back on the next one, and we love how you went after Landon.

2:00 L.A. had been called for 12 fouls, and Houston four, as Yao went to the line once again.

0:51.8 Walton finally got L.A. an FG, using a Bryant kick out to nail a 16-footer, backing up two Farmar FTs to put L.A. up 47-46.

0:27.0 Walton nailed a corner three for his second straight hit, seeing to it that L.A. would lead by two at the half despite a Yao tip in.

Halftime I feel like the “Quick Change” couple is following me.

YaoThird Quarter
The Lakers made only 7-of-23 second quarter shots (30.4 percent), but still managed to hold onto their two-point lead that was built on 14-for-23 in the first quarter. One reason? Houston was only 5-for-14 (getting 12 points at the line) and turned the ball over seven times (Ariza had four steals himself in the first half).

10:24 A beautiful spin move on Yao netted a lefty layup for Gasol, which set up an Odom block and three at the other end to put L.A. up 57-50. Bryant had swatted Yao prior to Gasol’s hoop, then refused to take a kickout pass.

9:17 Ariza nailed a three, and Odom swatted Yao once again, contributing to a great start to the quarter for the Lakers. To emphasize: Three straight blocks of Yao layup attempts by L.A.

6:37 Bryant missed two more shots (his last field goal came at 6:55 of the second), Farmar hit a tough running jumper off glass to put L.A. up 62-54 leading into a Rockets’ time out. Meanwhile, here’s a stat: Rockets fast break points = 0. The key: L.A. really worked hard defensively in that 6-minute salvo, and Houston simply struggled to get good looks.

5:56 L.A. earned its first 10-point lead with Gasol’s two free throws, as Scola slapped at the ball but instead met Pau’s face. No coincidence that Scola was the one initiating the Game 2 scuffle. Meanwhile, the Rockets continued to have a tough time getting good looks, as Battier threw the ball out of bounds when pressured in the lane. He definitely hurts Houston’s offense unless he’s taking wide-open threes.

3:49 Farmar, with six assists, six points, one turnover and a game-high +13, has been very solid, and just tapped out a long offensive rebound thanks to his 44-inch vertical. Back at the hotel, Derek Fisher’s nodding proudly.

2:50 Houston’s point total in nine minutes: eight. This might be the best defensive stanza from L.A. in the playoffs, and it certainly came at a key time to give the Lakers a 10-point lead.

2:17 Bryant finally broke his FG streak with a left-handed offensive rebound, and Odom backed him up with a triple to give L.A. their biggest lead at 71-58. By the way, we’ve been talking about how uncharacteristic Artest’s hot shooting was, but in the third, he was 1-of-6, including five straight misses, before finally getting a layup to go in the paint.

0:07.2 L.A. didn’t want to erase a defensively dominant third quarter with a touch foul, but Bynum reached out and grabbed Artest when he drove to the cup, and Ronny made both FTs.

0:00 If you’re a Rockets fan in the Toyota Center, the last thing you wanted to do was chant “Kobe Sucks” with L.A. inbounding with 3.5 seconds remaining. He loves hearing that, and let everyone know by swishing a 33-foot three-pointer to beat the buzzer and put L.A. up 74-62 heading into the fourth quarter.

The best defensive quarter of the series for L.A. produced a 24-16 edge and put Houston right where they didn’t want to be, down double digits heading into the fourth. How good was the defense? Houston hit only 6-of-25 shots (24 percent).

KobeFourth Quarter
11:04 Brown’s two free throws negated a Landry layup to open the fourth. L.A. doesn’t need to build on, but maintain, its lead heading into the final six minutes.

10:00 That’s one way to do it … Vujacic for three, Lakers by 13.

9:17 An unfortunate for L.A., potential crowd-galvanizing moment occurred when Wafer up-faked Vujacic and put his body into the Slovenian. Sasha swung his arm down hard and got almost all ball, but Wafer fell and the crowd took the opportunity to scream as if each seat had been sent some serious voltage. Wafer made all three FTs to cut the lead to 10.

8:31 In his 12th minute on the floor, Bynum drew a non-shooting foul, and was subbed out by Gasol with five boards, four points and two blocks while providing some generally intimidating in-lane defense. While he’s anything but in January form, L.A. has to be pleased with the kid’s contribution. More importantly in this context, his minutes allowed Gasol and Odom some valuable rest.

6:56 Bryant scored an absolutely silly running layup despite being mugged by Battier a possession after converting his own offensive board on another physical play. Jackson was quite upset when Lowry was given the and-1 call at the other end, though the Villanova product missed the freebie and L.A. led 85-76.

6:20 Ariza, wide open thanks to Farmar’s driving kick, had to make a wide-open three … And he did. But stay tuned … The ensuing six minutes will likely define the rest of the series.

3:52 Four straight points from Houston cut the lead to six as the crowd began to pick up, but L.A. calmly ran its offense and got Farmar an open jumper on the baseline. Simple.

3:24 Artest’s three-point attempt could have cut the lead to five, but he missed yet again from the perimeter. With just over three minutes remaining, would the Rockets be able to summon the fourth quarter fire power they’d been lacking throughout the season?

2:41 Bryant did a great job denying Artest the ball for a full possession, and

2:18 Dagger. Bryant nailed a deep three with a second left on the shot clock, even after pulling up on his follow through to get the ball out of his hands. Wow. Lakers by 11.

1:22 A Gasol offensive rebound allowed Bryant a second look at the hoop, and though he missed off glance, Odom flew in for a two-handed dunk. His ensuing roar was the only sound in the Toyota Center, thanks to a microphone on the rim, as the crowd’s silence was deafening. Surely Game 1 was been proven to be the aberration in this series after back-to-back convincing wins.

0:43.6 L.A. missed 3-of-6 free throws and Artest finally made two deep threes that didn’t matter, leading to a flagrant two foul when Kyle Lowry pushed Gasol from behind as Pau went up for a dunk. The two free throws made it 104-94 as the game dragged unnecessarily on.