Lakers 111, Rockets 98: Wednesday night is alright for fighting
And that's not even including the part about Rockets coach Rick Adelman sending Von Wafer back to the locker room for an early shower. As Bill Murray said in "Tootsie"... "That is one nutty hospital."
The breakdown is below.
- Considerably better execution on both sides of the ball, as demonstrated by some stats below
- A 16-22 first quarter. Yep, that's 73% from the field. Double check the math. It ain't a typo.
- Houston being held to 35% over the second half.
- Only eleven turnovers, which could have been shaved down to single digits were it not for a poor second quarter.
- 23 dimes on 43 buckets. Me like-ee.
- Eight blocks (a quartet for Pau Gasol alone) and ten steals
Also, "ball movement" and "energy" don't appear in a box score, but lest anyone be confused, both positives were also on display by the bushel.
Coming into this contest, I was willing to risk coming off like a naive homer or optimist by chalking up Game 1's crapfest in large part to rust accumulated during a week-long layoff. Yes, the Rockets outplayed the Lakers, and that's not even debatable. But the purple and gold made much of the work easier for Houston through impatience, sloppiness and brick laying I figured would decrease upon their feet being wet again. Tonight made me feel like I may have been onto something.
- Kobe Bryant: On the heels of a 14-31 effort where 32 points were produced through so much labor that folks may have wondered if I had secretly slipped on #24's jersey and taken his place, the story was all about Shane Battier's wizardry at making the Mamba work. And hats off to the Dukie, because he really was successful inducing Kobe into some difficult shots from distance.
Well, the headlines after Game 2 are likely to be chock full of praise over a 40-point outburst where Bryant was clearly the one in control. From start to finish, Bryant launched quick, decisive shots before Battier could even raise his infamous "face guarding" mitt, utilized screens, and attacked the rack. 7-11 for 15 quick first quarter points, Bryant laid the groundwork for an attack where he rarely appeared to work harder than need be or desired.
By and large, I thought Kobe achieved this 16-27 mark by doing himself the massive favor of a disciplined shot selection. Taking only three attempts from downtown (two falling), Kobe made a point getting himself closer to the basket whenever possible before letting fly. There was a beautiful sequence where he posted up Wafer, saw Aaron Brooks arrive with the double, then spun off Von for an easy score. Kobe can work nearly any guard to his favor in the paint, an approach I enjoy considerably more than when he stands in one place pulling multiple pump fakes or spends too long dribbling either along the arc. Tonight, Bryant didn't allow Battier (and Houston) to dictate the terms of his game plan.
Also, kudos for not allowing himself to get caught up in Ron Ron's circus, and, well, egging Artest into "Ringling Brothers" mode.
Oh, and more kudos for the "pass off the backboard" bucket after blowing past Battier. That qualifies as "cool" in my book.
- Pau Gasol: Another guy who followed up a series opener where little came easy by discovering his inner-Sade (as you know, she enjoyed her a "smooth operator"). From the first quarter jump (5-5, 13 points), El Spaniard was in a zone where the bucket must have felt open like a Sev-Lev, whether connecting from 10-15 feet, flushing alley oop dunks, or tipping in misses. His 20 points on 9-13 shooting likely could (and would) have been inflated, had his teammates looked more consistently in his direction during the second half. Gasol also enjoyed mucho success taking it directly to Yao Ming, that aggression putting the 7'6" center on his heels in defense. As a result, Yao spent the entire game in foul trouble and was reduced to a complete non-factor.
Extra points were also in order for a play where Gasol's secured a loose ball away from Luis Scola through multiple tips, ran the rock across halfcourt and a few more steps, then chucked a bouncer to set up Trevor Ariza for a dunk. Sequences like that are always fun, but when they're initiated by a seven-footer, we're talking straight up gold.
- Derek Fisher's Flagrant 2: I like that the Lakers aren't going to be intimidated, that they're willing to throw their proverbial (and literal) weight around, that they've got each other's backs. But there's hard-nosed play, and then there's one step too far. Fisher's foul- a nasty shoulder drive/elbow to Luis Scola, approaching from behind to set a back pick- deservedly got him tossed, and will more than likely result in a suspension for Friday's Game 3 in Houston. It's one thing to play tough, it's another to cost the team. That wasn't Fisher's purpose, but it'll likely be the result.
(One more note: If you get a chance to watch PJ's reaction the question about whether Fish would be suspended, it's worth it. "No," he scoffed loudly, as if the mere suggestion was analogous to asking him if he'd be starting DJ Mbenga at the two on Friday or riding to work on a unicorn. This before railing on the inconsistencies of how plays like this are called and defending his guy... a sure sign he thinks the league will take action).
- Phil's Second Quarter Lineup... and LA's second quarter generally: Down by 14 after one, Rick Adelman opened the second frame with a lineup of wee people in Kyle Lowry, Von Wafer, Aaron Brooks, Chuck Hayes, and Carl Landry. Three guards, lots of quick. PJ counters with three guards of his own. So far, so good... except they were Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, and Shannon Brown (with LO and Andrew Bynum). I don't need to pull up the figures on 82 Games.com to know those three guys haven't played much together. Brown and Farmar may not have appeared on the floor at the same time at all. Going small is fine, but to not include Kobe in a three guard lineup was a horrible decision. No surprise that those guys struggled on both sides of the ball, scoring four points in three minutes as the lead went down to seven. Houston would eventually eliminate the lead entirely later in the quarter, playing against the starters (four of them, at least), but the logic of opening the quarter with a group that needs name tags to recognize each other escapes me.
- Andrew Bynum: I'm not trying to pick on the kid, because I think people are starting to understand the difficulty of his situation, coming back with only four games left in the regular season after missing 31 games then trying to ramp up to playoff level hoop while also regaining confidence in a badly injured knee. But at the same time, it's fair to wonder exactly what the Lakers will get out of him the rest of the way. In 8:39 of burn Wednesday night, he had a rebound, a block, no points, and three personals. His best moment probably came on his first touch, when Bynum received the ball in the high post and, instead of forcing a shot, fed a cutting Lamar Odom for an easy deuce. Good patience, nice play.
Like a lot of people, I probably expected too much, too fast. Or am I just being too kind?
Fisher, on the team's toughness: "I think we have to be who we are. We have guys that have particular styles of play, (who) have particular skill sets that are based more so on skill (and) the ability to score the basketball, (and) the ability to move and not just line up and play physical basketball. At the same time, we're capable of doing a lot of things out there and we intend to win a championship. Whatever it takes to do that, that's what we're willing to do. I don't think it was different last year and I don't think it's any different this year. We got beat by a better team in the Finals last year."
Walton, on how they're sticking together in the face of physical play:
"One of the reasons we lost last year in the Finals is that we weren't
physical enough. They were pushing us around and we didn't push back,
so we're going to make sure that's not the reason we lose this year.
We're going to make sure that doesn't happen again."
Derek Fisher provides an explanation for the contact with Luis Scola that led to his ejection.
You tell us if you're buying it.
Kobe Bryant, on Ron Artest's ejection over an altercation with The Mamba.
If Kobe had gotten a vote, Ron Ron wouldn't have been run run.
Luke Walton, on the ejections and Artest
Luke Walton, on the series' physical play
Pau Gasol, on the same topic
Kobe Bryant, on riding the emotions of a game