Lakers 87, Rockets 99: Postgame 4

RocketsThe Lakers probably didn’t give their respective moms what they were looking for on this Mother’s Day, because it was pretty easy to describe what happened in Sunday’s Game 4 loss to the Rockets: L.A. got outworked.

“We got outworked,” said Trevor Ariza.

See. Moms don’t like that.

The contest can almost be summed up in a play that took all of 0.08 seconds to develop: Inbounding the ball from his own sideline in front of the Houston bench with less than a second left in the third quarter, Ron Artest flung the basketball across and down the court, then watched as Aaron Brooks rose, received, and laid the ball off glass to put the Rockets up 83-54. As they’d done far too often on Sunday, the Lakers were left to simply stand and watch.

While L.A. did manage a late charge that cut a 29-point lead to 13 with 2:48 remaining and 10 in the final minute – at best shifting some momentum heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 – the backs-against-the-wall Rockets rallied impressively around the absence of the injured Yao Ming. With some fierce small ball basketball, Houston nailed 10 threes in the first three quarters and hassled the Lakers all over the floor to concede just 54 points until the Lakers put up a 33-16 fourth quarter with Houston in NFL-style prevent defense.

Sure, with Friday’s win, L.A. managed to regain home-court advantage in a series that they will still, in all likelihood, win, but it was somewhat troubling for the purple and gold to put forth such an effort in a playoff game. After all, when the Lakers fired on all cylinders in Games 2 and 3, Houston never had a chance to win. Yet without Yao in the middle, Houston’s small ball seemed to mess with L.A.’s rhythm, creating a far different story in Game 4.

The sheer number of Lakers that were ineffective is telling: Lamar Odom (two points before leaving for good in the third quarter due to back spasms*); Andrew Bynum (zero points); Derek Fisher (two points); and Trevor Ariza (five points). Kobe Bryant took mostly contested jumpers en route to a 7-for-17 performance (15 points), while Pau Gasol (11-of-17 from the field, 30 points), and Shannon Brown (14 points off the bench) were the only offensively efficient Lakers.
*Odom will be examined in L.A. on Monday.

Other than the Brooks alley-oop layup, there was one other telling moment today that took place in our running diary with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter: “L.A. back within 20.” What an odd sentence to write about perhaps the league’s most talented team.

The good news for the Lakers is that they’ve responded to every dud in professional fashion, and have their chance to get back at Houston at STAPLES Center on Tuesday night.

Until then, some numbers:

3
Turnovers by Trevor Ariza in the first quarter, halfway to L.A.’s turnover total from the entire Game 3.

7
Rockets turnovers through three quarters. They’d averaged 18.6 turnovers in the seven previous meetings with the Lakers this season.

18
L.A.’s deficit at halftime. Back-to-back Bryant jumpers had L.A. within 11, but the Rockets closed the second on a 7-1 run to go up by a healthy margin.

28
Points for Aaron Brooks … through three quarters … en route to a career playoff high 34. He was huge in Game 1 and absent in 2 and 3, making his play serve as a decent barometer for Houston.

36
First half points for the Lakers.

36.8
L.A.’s shooting percentage in a first quarter that quickly found them down 17-4, and eventually 29-16.