Lakers Battle to Victory in Game 2

May 7, 2009

Nice of you to finally join the playoffs, Lakers.

After skipping through their first six playoff games with a lackadaisical on-again, off-again demeanor, the Los Angeles Lakers were finally forced to bring some fight to the table in their Game 2 skirmish with the Houston Rockets. The intense contest featured ejections, technicals, trash-talking, and even some actual basketball. When it was all over, the Lakers emerged with a hard fought 111-98 win, evening the best of seven series to 1-1.

Los Angeles was led by Kobe Bryant's 40 points, and Pau Gasol's 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Ron Artest paced Houston, pouring in 25 points, including 4 treys. Carl Landry also contributed 21 points and 10 boards in the loss.

In the first quarter, Phil Jackson put his imprint on the game right away, electing to start Lamar Odom in place of the struggling Andrew Bynum.

The move paid immediate dividends, as the Lakers appeared to be more active defensively. That solid defense led to numerous transition opportunities for the Lakers, producing a faster pace than the half-court slugfest found in Game 1.

Kobe Bryant was particularly effective in the opening quarter, as he rebounded from his prior mediocre performance by exploding for 15 first quarter points. Most of those points came from a variety of jumpers, as Bryant's stroke was on the mark all night. He would shoot an impressive 16-27 for the game.

Gasol also played a vital role in the Lakers good start, as his versatile floor game was on full display. Gasol ran the floor, led a fast break, hit a nice fallaway jumper from the post, and had a beautiful spin move and left-handed dunk on Houston's Yao Ming. More importantly, Gasol drew a second foul on Yao, forcing the Rockets' star to the bench earlier than expected. As a result, LA enjoyed a comfortable 39-25 advantage at the end of the quarter.

In the second quarter, Houston coach Rick Adelman countered by inserting his small, "energy" lineup of Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks in the backcourt, Von Wafer at the three, and bigs Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes.

Landry was the most effective player on the floor during the quarter, as he dominated the paint by crashing the glass and drawing fouls. His activity helped slow the pace by forcing the Lakers to take the ball out of the net and play against Houston's set defense. The Lakers lost whatever momentum they had established in the first quarter, and were fortunate to go into the halftime locker room tied at 57.

In the third quarter, Bryant remained hot from the perimeter, scoring 8 consecutive points to give LA a 69-62 lead.

With the Lakers beginning to pull away, the tenor of the game became more physical.

With 29.3 seconds left in the quarter, Lamar Odom was fouled hard by Luis Scola on a drive to the hole. Words were exchanged between the two, and then Luke Walton joined the party, jawing with Scola face-to-face.

On the ensuing trip down the floor veteran Derek Fisher made sure Scola got the message, leveling Scola with a shoulder as he tried to set a pick. The rough foul prompted the referees to eject Fisher, who could now be suspended for Game 3.

With their starting point guard no longer available for the fourth quarter, the Lakers were forced to turn to struggling backup Jordan Farmar. Farmar delivered when needed by drawing a charge, hitting a late trey, and diving on the floor for a steal and eventual fast break bucket.

Then things became real interesting.

Kobe and Ron Artest were battling for a rebound when Artest was called for a loose ball foul with 6:57 left in the game. Artest protested that he in fact was the recipient of an elbow to the throat, and then ran over to Bryant and began jawing at him nose-to-nose. Artest's actions netted him an ejection, and ratcheted up the emotional intensity of the game that much more.

With the Rockets' leading scorer now in the locker room, the Lakers were able to cruise to victory. Bryant punctuated the game with the highlight shot of the night, as he cleverly threw the ball off the backboard to avoid Shane Battier's defense, and then followed his shot for an offensive put-back bucket. That score put LA up 104-90, and they never looked back.

The Lakers enjoyed a slight rebounding edge over the Rockets for the second consecutive game. Los Angeles also outshot Houston 50% to 46%. But perhaps the most important statistic for the Lakers was their 20 fast break points.

Game 3 is scheduled for Friday.

What We Have Learned From This Series Thus Far

1. The Ron Artest-Trevor Ariza matchup is not even competitive, as Artest's superior strength has allowed him to dominate Ariza both on the block and when muscling in for drives. Look for Artest to continue to put up big numbers throughout the series.

2. Forget all his timely flops and three-pointers - Derek Fisher's knock-you-on-your-ass shoulder to Luis Scola was his most memorable Laker play since his ".4" shot. Regardless of whether he is suspended, that play will be fondly remembered by Laker fans similar to how Dallas Cowboy fans remember George Teague's defense of the Texas Stadium star.

More importantly, Fisher's foul set a physical tone that had been lacking among the Lakers. Because the LA bigs have continuously failed to step up and send a message to their opponents, Fisher took the onus upon himself and came through as a true leader should.

3. Without Yao Ming, Houston has few players who can create their own shots in half court sets. He will need to stay out of foul trouble if they are to have any chance.

4. Because Andrew Bynum has been struggling, Phil Jackson has curtailed the young center's playing time significantly. Bynum played a mere 8 minutes last night, generating only one rebound. However, at some point, Jackson will need to bite the bullet and let Bynum find his way because his services will be needed in the later rounds.

5. Kobe had an MVP-like performance and dominated Shane Battier. Bryant had many of the same contested looks as in Game 1, only this time they fell. Eventually, Bryant will need get more looks in the paint because he cannot always rely on shooting such a high percentage.

6. The Lakers finally demonstrated the passion and intensity needed to win a title. Time will tell if this new playoff attitude is only a temporary phenomenon, or a true on-the-fly change within the team.

7. Jackson finally wised up on his use of Sasha Vujacic. Vujacic is a marginal defender who can close out on shooters and harass, but cannot contain any penetration. Thus, his true worth is seen only when he is hitting his jumpers. On games when he is off, Jackson should give him a quick yank, as he did last night.

Jordan Farmar, unlike Vujacic, can create his own shot with the shot clock winding down. Hence, Jackson should give Farmar added minutes this series, particularly against Houston's small, quick point guards.

8. The Laker fans in attendance disgraced the old Forum faithful and probably made Chick Hearn turn over in his grave by absurdly chanting "We Want Tacos" during the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Other than cries of "Defense," the only other chant that should be heard at Staples Center should be "We Want Boston!" And it should be chanted in every home game until LA reaches the Finals.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for


  1. lakers will take game 3! bynum is gonna put scola on his back! LA in 5 . . .

  2. very astute analysis.. could not agree more!

  3. can't wait for game 2nite.. Lakers young guards are gonna have 2 step up in the absence of fish.. same goes for la's young big (bynum)

    if they can get either of hou 2 top scorers (yao and/or ronnie artest) in foul trouble early, there will be a problem in h-town

  4. Great article, good insights, just finished watching the debacle of game 4 and was ashamed to call myself a Laker fan, would love to see your revised insights after this one... at this point, Lakers have no chance of winning a title this year


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