Rockets 100, Lakers 92: Houston, they caused some problems
Well, as Pau Gasol told the media after the game, "Nobody said it would be easy."***
Truly, especially if the Lakers continue to play as they did Monday night, losing to the Rockets 100-92. The traditional breakdown doesn't really work here, because a) there wasn't enough "good" to fill the category, and b) there was far too much "bad" to narrow down to our standard three. Like the team, I'll need to go back and watch a little tape to see more of what went on. Both Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant agreed that it would be tough for the Lakers to play much worse in Game 2 on Wednesday than they did tonight, and I tend to agree... to a point. Big picture, my confidence that the Lakers will win the series hasn't been shaken (though clearly those of you who put down a few bills on Lakers-in-four are SOL), but there's no question a few things are going to have to change before the teams again take the floor in about 48 hours:
- 18 dimes on 39 FGs. Some of that is simply missed shots. Especially early. The Lakers started the game ice cold, unless you think 8-24 over the first 12 minutes is good. And while they certainly settled for too many jumpers, many of them were open and simply didn't go down. On the other hand, much can be attributed to Houston's defense and LA's willingness to play into what the Rockets like to do, namely force jumpers and avoid fouls. Somewhere, Michael Lewis and Rockets GM Daryl Morey are smiling. Kobe Bryant, until four late free throws and a couple easy don't-foul-him! buckets near the hoop at the end of the game was limited primarily to perimeter J's (on which he was 10-26) and kept off the free throw line. Nor did he get a lot of help. The Lakers have to move the ball more, exhibit more patience offensively, and force Houston (and particularly Yao) to make decisions defensively. Once they do, LA's passing and cutting ability should give them better looks inside. In those moments where they attacked the rack, the Lakers were pretty effective.
- Gasol and Derek Fisher were pretty bad on the offensive end. Pau's final line (14/13/4) isn't a disaster, but isn't reflective of his struggles. He missed a ton of open shots, turned the ball over four times, and generally seemed out of sync. Defensively he had his moments, with three steals and some good plays denying passes inside to Yao and the 13 boars are nice, but Gasol has to provide a second threat offensively and didn't do it. Fish hit a couple jumpers, but generally spent too much time dribbling into traffic.
- As Andy mentioned in the video, you have to figure that even if the Lakers settle for too many jumpers and triples in Game 2, they'll hit from downtown above tonight's 11% clip.
- More from the bench. Aside from Lamar Odom, who had 9/5/3 and did some good work defensively, the Lakers produced three more field goals from the reserves, one each for Sasha Vujacic, Josh Powell, and Jordan Farmar (who actually hit a key triple at the end of the half, punctuating the most positive 2:53 of run he's had in a while). Many of you will mock, but the Rockets are a team against whom Luke Walton comes in handy. They have big, burly players to defend- he does okay with that- and more importantly, are best attacked by quick and decisive passing. Hopefully he plays in Game 2, giving Phil Jackson more options. Walton isn't a savior by any stretch, but it doesn't hurt to have him around.
- Personal Fouls. 26 for the Lakers, 14 for the Rockets. Blame the officials if you want, but overall I felt the discrepancy was more a reflection on what the Lakers weren't doing as a team (moving their feet, attacking the rack) than what the refs weren't giving them.
- Rust. I hope after they sleep on it that the Lakers don't lean too much on it as a reason for the loss.
Like I said, I don't expect the Lakers to lose this series, but I do think the challenges they face over the next few games are more substantial than what they saw after Game 3 in Utah. The Rockets are a little like San Antonio lite. I'm talking about the championship Spurs, by the way, not this year's version. The Lakers are fully capable of beating the Rockets on both ends of the floor, but can't take shortcuts. I liked when they pushed pace and took open shots in transition, before Houston's defense could set. But once halfcourt play had been established, I felt the Lakers too often settled for outside-in play. They didn't make the extra cut, didn't make the extra pass, didn't work hard enough to force Houston's defense to react.
That's not how they won all those games in the regular season. Defensively, there were issues (anyone want to seal the baseline?) but overall I thought the Lakers were fine. Houston's 100 point total was misleading. If LA is close at the end and not putting the Rockets on the line, Houston finishes much closer to a 90 point figure. Overall, I felt the rotations were strong, and there were a great deal of trips for the Rockets where they didn't come close to getting a good look.
Fans won't sleep well tonight, I suspect the team won't either. I expect an all business afternoon Tuesday in El Segundo, and a much better effort Wednesday night. The sort of game that could make people start to forget Monday's failures and build momentum before the Lakers head to Texas.
Plenty more to come tomorrow.
***Technically, of course, this isn't entirely true. If you predicted the Lakers would win in five (as I did), that is, by the standards of the NBA Playoffs, relatively easy. At least as far as wins and losses go.
Phil Jackson, on why the Lakers should only play better in Game 2
Kobe Bryant, on why the Lakers can play better than during Game 1
Kobe Bryant, on what he tells his less experienced teammates about how to bounce back