While the Lakers were struggling in Denver last Thursday night, Rockets forward Shane Battier was with his team in Sacramento watching on television, apparently lamenting the score.
He figured the Lakers, annoyed with the big loss, would bring a little bit extra when the 2008-09 Western Conference Semi’s opponents locked horns. As if to specifically prove Battier’s point, the Lakers stormed out to a 16-2 lead on Sunday’s contest at STAPLES Center.
Yet L.A. also knew something about Houston.
The Rockets are an especially gritty team, as they showed last season in the Western Conference Semis and 11 days ago in a one-point, OT Lakers victory in Houston. As if to prove that point, the Rockets stormed right back into the game, climbing to within three points (24-21) before L.A. ended the quarter up 29-23.
Whatever burst the Lakers had out of the tunnel simply never came back, the Rockets outscoring the home team 49-37 in the second half to hand the Lakers their second home loss of the young season.
“It was a great game for us,” said Houston head coach Rick Adelman. “They jumped all over us (to) start the game and then we got our composure and got back in it. The whole second half was terrific.”
In the third quarter, the Rockets had ridden the (red) hot hand of Aaron Brooks to a 28-19 spread that featured a 12-0 run, including three triples from the diminutive third-year guard. That gave Houston an 80-73 edge heading into the fourth, and new Rockets acquisition David Andersen promptly gave the visitors their biggest lead of the game to that point with back-to-back buckets to open the final period.
The Lakers never really got back into it from then on, watching their shooting percentage dip to just 38.1 percent for the game on 32-of-84 from the field. Kobe Bryant managed to hit just 5-of-20 and Derek Fisher 3-of-13, and while Andrew Bynum was again solid with 21 points and 11 rebounds, he only took 12 shots (making eight). Perhaps the stat of the game, however, was Houston’s 60-38 dominance of the backboard.
“(The Rockets) pursued the ball really well,” said Phil Jackson. “They just chased it. I was upset at halftime, I thought (we) forced shots. In the second half, (we) had wide open shots, much better shot selection, but (we) didn’t make shots.”
Some light was shed upon Bryant’s uncharacteristic effort when it was learned that he was dealing with a strained groin originally suffered on Sunday, Nov. 8 against New Orleans, which he tweaked in the first quarter*. Yet Bryant said he didn’t plan on missing any games, and looked forward to practice (and treatment) on Monday.
*CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL BRYANT INJURY UPDATE.
Ron Artest added 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting with three triples, plus six boards and three steals, while former Laker Trevor Ariza (who received his ring from Bryant and Fisher in a pregame ceremony) struggled to a 2-of-12 from the field offensive night, but was terrific on defense behind four steals, two blocks, eight rebounds and the stalking of Bryant.
L.A. has a chance to get back in the win column on Tuesday against Detroit, aiming to avoid losing for three consecutive times for the first time since the team acquired still-missing Pau Gasol (hamstring) in February of 2007.
In other news, Luke Walton missed the game with a sore back, and will be re-evaluated on Monday morning.
Until then, your numbers:
60 Rebounds for Houston to L.A.’s 38, giving the Rockets a commanding 22-board edge including a 13-6 win on the offensive glass.
45 Bench points for Houston, including 19 for Australian center David Andersen, 15 for Carl Landry and 11 for rookie Chase Budinger.
33.3 L.A.’s shooting percentage in the second half on 11-of-33. They made only 32-of-84 (38.1 percent) shots for the game.
25 “Is that Chris Rock” jokes that came into my Twitter account (@LakersReporter) referring to Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks, who torched the Lakers with a regular season career-high 33 points.
9 Combined blocks for both teams in the first 7:11 of the game.
5 Lakers turnovers in the first half, helping them overcome 41.2 percent shooting and the concession of six offensive boards.