After the first quarter of L.A.’s Tuesday evening blowout win over the Houston Rockets, the home team led by 11 points. After the second, the gap was 25. One more quarter, and it was 40, the margin that would stick through the final score of 118 – 78.
While the margin* would be a surprise unless five courtside celebs had taken the place of L.A.’s opponents for a quarter (try Jack, Denzel, Sandler, DiCaprio and Carroll), it was anything but a shocker that L.A. responded with fury and skill to a poor Sunday afternoon performance. On the contrary, the Lakers had responded to adversity – or losses – throughout the season, including twice already in the playoffs after dropping Game 3 to Utah in Round 1 and Game 1 in this series against the Rockets.
*The 40-point loss tied Houston’s worst playoff loss ever (Dallas, 116-76 on May 7, 2005).
“I think that we just started off a lot better,” said Pau Gasol, who was particularly active in the first quarter and finished with 16 points and 13 boards in three quarters. “We set the tone earlier. We just got a higher level of intensity today than we did in Game 4.”
Not only that, but the Lakers may have released Andrew Bynum from his metaphorical cage, which could be a major boon for a team that remains doggedly focused on winning a championship. The 21-year-old center, who’d struggled to find a semblance of rhythm – and minutes – throughout the first two rounds, started in place of Lamar Odom (sore back), and opened with L.A.’s first six points. He finished with 14 and six boards in only 19 minutes, giving L.A. precisely what it needed.
“Very happy,” said Kobe Bryant of Bynum’s game. “He looked energized he played with the kind of spirit we like to see from Andrew and hopefully he’ll keep it up.”
Bynum and Gasol figured out how to give Houston fits with their collective length, which wasn’t happening earlier in the series, while Odom fought through some serious back pain to offer 10 points and six boards to the cause in 18 minutes.
The Lakers got a game high 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting from Bryant, who got to all of his spots on offense and was perhaps even more influential on defense by darting around and setting a tone that ceded very few open looks to a Rockets team that had been afforded an ocean of room just two days ago.
As a product of that purple and gold defensive energy, the Rockets struggled to score 54 points on 30.3 percent shooting through three quarters. It was just the opposite for the Lakers, who in those same three quarters used threes (6-for-11), free throws (22-of-29) and fastbreak points (21) to score 94 points and take that 40-point lead.
It was a lead that the likes of Josh Powell, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and D.J. Mbenga would maintain in the final quarter, as every Laker contributed to the victory. Perhaps the best bench performance came from Jordan Farmar, who contributed six assists and one turnover along with 12 points. His biggest play was a buzzer-beating three pointer to close the first quarter that in some ways set the tone for the second quarter.
The tone, however, may have been set in stone before the ball was tipped: “We were trying to play the same way we did last game,” said Houston head coach Rick Adelman on the postgame podium.
Clearly, the Lakers had made adjustments: they weren’t going to allow Houston the same wide open looks from three, and they didn’t (Rockets 5-of-29); they planned on sealing up the driving lanes that were so clear in Game 4, and they did (Rockets 14 fewer points in the paint, 20 fewer free throw attempts); they planned to attack the shorter Rockets in the paint, and they did (30 points in three quarters for Gasol and Bynum). And so on.
The Lakers did seem to realize, however, that Thursday’s Game 6 will be an entirely different story; they’ll have to make new adjustments to anticipate Houston’s adjustments.
“You just got to stay focused and you have to understand that the effort that we did tonight is not going to be enough on Thursday, it’s just not,” concluded Bryant. “So you got to pick it up and bring more energy. Bring more effort because that’s what playoffs are about, each game you have to raise your level.”
Just 48 hours, and they’ll have their chance to close out the series on the road. Until then, your numbers:
Personal fouls committed by Andrew Bynum, who was lighter on his feet defensively than he’d been in L.A.’s previous playoff games. That helped him pull down three boards at both ends of the floor, and make 5-of-6 shots (all near the hoop) and all four free throws for 14 points in 19 minutes.
Assists off the pine from Jordan Farmar, a game high in 22 minutes, put alongside just one turnover for a backup point guard who seems to have rediscovered his game in the last week.
Steals by the Lakers, including three from Trevor Ariza and two each from Luke Walton and Shannon Brown, contributing to 18 Rockets turnovers.
Points by Aaron Brooks, 20 fewer than his Game 4 total, in 30 minutes to lead his team. Brooks made just 4-of-11 FGAs, while his teammate Ron Artest really struggled in missing 11 of his 15 attempts.
Combined Rockets points in the second and third quarters, during which time the Lakers scored 59 points.
Houston’s shooting percentage, including 5-of-29 three pointers against an active Lakers defense.
Just to reiterate, the margin of victory, which is L.A.’s biggest since a 47-point romp over San Antonio on April 17, 1986.