Lackluster Lakers Drop Game 1

May 5, 2009

There is an old adage in the NBA: A series does not start until one team wins a road game.

Well, it appears we now have a series.

Led by Yao Ming's 28 points and 10 boards, the Houston Rockets upset the Los Angeles Lakers 100-92, taking a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series. Instrumental in the Rockets' success was their solid team defense, as they held Los Angeles to 2 of 18 shooting from three-point land, and to 44% overall.

In the first quarter, Ron Artest got Houston off to a quick start with 7 points, including a nice "blow by" drive past Trevor Ariza for a lefty power jam.

Meanwhile, the Lakers opened the game playing out of sync offensively. One factor in those struggles was the solid position defense of role player Shane Battier. Battier set the tone defensively, harassing Kobe Bryant into one particularly ugly turnover, when Kobe attempted to force a pass. If that play alone didn't send a message to his teammates, Battier's bloody face surely did, as he later suffered a nasty gash over his eye while hustling for a rebound.

Contributing to Houston's early success was Laker center Andrew Bynum's two quick fouls. That foul trouble cut into Bynum's playing time, limiting him to only 15 minutes for the entire game. At the end of one, Houston led 21-18.

In the second quarter, Houston's defense continued to shine, allowing the Rockets to slow the pace and make the Lakers play predominantly half court basketball. Houston was particularly effective in stopping the Lakers give and go plays from the post, as the Rockets often jumped the passing lanes of the Lakers' baseline cutters, forcing the Lakers' bigs to look elsewhere.

The grind-it-out style did not help an under-the-weather Kobe Bryant, as he labored to a forgettable 4-12 first half shooting performance in which he failed to get to the charity stripe. As a result, Houston led 43-40 at halftime.

In the third quarter, Bryant and the Lakers began to get hot. Bryant exploded for 13 points in the quarter, primarily off jump shots.

However, Houston was able to counter with second-year point guard Aaron Brooks, who produced 9 third quarter points on a variety of drives to the rack. Undoubtedly, Yao Ming played a role in Brooks' success, as the Laker bigs were afraid to help on Brooks because they did not want to leave Yao open on the perimeter.

Entering the final quarter, the Lakers still trailed by three. However, after a 5 footer from Bryant, and two free throws by backup Shannon Brown, the rejuvenated Laker squad pulled ahead 77-76. And when Yao Ming left the game minutes later with a knee injury, it appeared that LA just might be able to sneak out a victory.

However, Yao did his best Willis Reed impersonation and returned to the court at the 4:00 mark. His presence immediately stabilized the Rockets, as he promptly nailed a 20-foot J, and converted several clutch free throws down the stretch to win the game.

For a Lakers team that came out flat and uninspired, this game should serve as a wake-up call. And other than coach Phil Jackson, nobody deserves more blame for the squad's absence of fire, than team leader Kobe Bryant.

On a day when Bryant finished second in the MVP voting, he was not even the second-best player on the floor. Those honors would go to the Rockets top two performers, Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks (7-14, 19 points), with Ron Artest ranking third (21 points).

Going back to last year's Finals, at this rate Bryant is good for about two quality games per series. Worse yet for LA, the mediocre showings like last night are appearing more frequently.

Bryant shot an unimpressive 14-31 from the field, with several of those makes coming in garbage time. Throughout the game he was content to simply jack up contested jumpers, as he did not shoot his first free throw until the 9:40 mark of the third quarter.

While many of Kobe's bricks were shots that he normally buries, he did his team a disservice by not seeking more quality looks in the paint. Essentially, Kobe made himself into a one-dimensional streak shooter, no better than a Dell Curry or an Eddie Johnson. In other words, he had cold stretches (first half) and hot stretches (third quarter), but not nearly enough diversity in his game. His post touches were virtually absent, while his forays to the hole were limited. The Lakers will need much smarter play from him if they are to win a ring this year.

In his defense, however, his teammates gave him little help.

Role players Derek Fisher, Trevor Ariza, and Sasha Vujacic all struggled from behind the arc, negating several good kick out passes from Bryant.

Big men Pau Gasol (3 steals) and Lamar Odom (4 offensive boards) displayed some heart, fight, and hustle, but also were inefficient offensively and never quite found their rhythm.

Meanwhile, Yao put on a show, going 10-10 from the free throw line, and scoring on a variety of hooks, spin moves, and jumpers throughout the game.

With Game 2 awaiting on Wednesday, LA will need a much better effort from #24. More importantly, they will need to play with the necessary sense of urgency and desperation that they have lacked this postseason.

Perhaps a picture of Ralph Sampson might do the trick.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for


  1. LMAO @ the Lakers.. already upset, do the laidback la faithful still think they are gonna streak their way to the 'chip!!

    Yao, Ron Ron Artest, AB Brooks and even "dookie" Battier showed waaay more heart then kb24 and that BUM bynum

  2. worse part about it- Phil Jax was outsmarted and outcoached by the immortal Rick Adelman (!!)

    not a good sign

    Kobe needs 2 score 40 or better 2nite for LA to win


We encourage all intelligent, passionate comments. Please refrain from any ignorant, racist, or offensive rants.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...