Here we have a game where Kobe was allowed to get to the line freely. A game where the slightest contact by a Rocket in the 4th was cause for a foul. A game that was nevertheless a field goal away from a win.
Now, it should be noted that, unlike a lot of fans, I will freely admit that I blame games on the officials. And I'm pretty much going to do that here. You can use all the excuses you like ("That's the way stars are reffed" or "Kobe just takes over"), but that doesn't change the fact that Kobe was given a three point play after no Rocket came close to touching him. That doesn't change the fact that he was bailed out by the officials in the fourth, and it doesn't change the fact that this is not the way a professional basketball game is supposed to be officiated.
With that being said, the Rockets had plenty of opportunities to win this one, but they ultimately failed to do so, regardless of officiating blunders. Trevor Ariza was absolutely atrocious on the offensive end of the court: 15 points on 21 shots. Aaron Brooks had more turnovers than assists. Simply put, the two rising stars of the Rockets lineup failed to play efficiently or intelligently. Brooks was unable to beat the Lakers' guards, and he utterly failed to handle their trap defense properly. Ariza's attempts to create off the dribble were largely unnecessary and usually ended poorly. Not a good game for either of them.
The Rockets' frontcourt, however, was great. Luis Scola has seen better nights, but Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes were spectacular, combining for 34 points and 32 rebounds on 16-21 shooting. The Rockets outrebounded the Lakers, forced Kobe Bryant to take over the game (which is, despite what so many will tell you, not a winning plan most of the time), and kept everyone else but Andrew Bynum from being much of a factor. So what killed the Rockets?
Free throws could have been made (though the Lakers were converting about the same percentage). The overall defense could have been improved (about .03 pts/poss. worse than in the rest of the season). But what really killed the Rockets were turnovers. 19 of them will do that for you.
Ariza and Brooks combined for over half of that total. Not cool. AB has got to handle double teams and traps better. Ariza has to... well, I'm not sure how he can improve on that. He's not a great ball handler, and he should probably stop trying to take it inside. Make more cuts to the basket off the ball. Plenty of times tonight, the offense seemed to become stagnant, with Lowry or AB dribbling around the arc and everyone else standing still. Chuck made cuts, and so did Landry, and both of them finished at the rim. The same cannot be said of Ariza.
There is an incentive here to settle. "Well, the Rockets finished only a point behind the World Champs, right? Good show!" The Rockets fought hard, but they screwed up. I believe wholeheartedly that this team is *a lot* better than virtually everyone has said, and I as a fan am not going to settle for a game that could have been won if not for stupid errors. The Rockets are going to surprise a lot of people by just staying in these kinds of games, but I'm here to tell you that they're going to surprise a lot more by winning. Adelman, Morey, and the Rockets sure as hell aren't settling for this result tonight - you could see it on Chuck's face at the end of the game (okay, maybe that's just projection) - and neither should the fans. The Rox are better than this.
So, uh, I guess this is tradition here:
Chuck Hayes: MVP for the game. He cleaned up messes around the rim, fought for rebounds, and even created a play or two.
Carl Landry: Stud off the bench. Why wasn't he getting more PT? The fact that he had to replace either Chuck or Luis has everything to do with that. Given the way the Rockets played defense without Hayes on the court, I'd be hesitant to put both Landry and Scola together, too. Still, Luis Landry lives, and the Rockets aren't going to win against great opponents if they can't go to their two best post players at once. Particularly in OT, maybe Adelman should have been more willing to play all three. Maybe. I'm no expert.
Hakeem Olajuwon: Nice to see the greatest center of all time hanging around the Toyota Center. That should happen more often. (No, I wasn't really impressed with anyone else's performance)
Aaron Brooks: Couldn't get his shot to go for most of the night, though he eventually came back for a 3-7 performance from behind the arc. The 7 turnovers, however, killed the tean, and he needs to do a better job of running the motion offense.
Trevor Ariza: Do what comes naturally, not what you need to force. Stop trying to create off the dribble.
Three point shooting: You know what? Let's just chalk that up to bad luck, though the Rockets certainly weren't going to be shooting 50% forever.