Playoff Recap: Lakers pummel Rockets 118-78; Series returns to Houston for Game 6

Facts are facts: the Houston Rockets never had a chance in Game 5.  No arguments are necessary.  We were not going to win.  I'm not accepting defeat, and I'm not acting like it doesn't matter.  I'm just being honest when I say that this was bound to happen.  When you piss off the big dogs, you expect retaliation.  The Rockets simply aren't good enough to deal with an angry group of Lakers on their home floor.  Sorry.

Don't listen to the homers, don't listen to the Chronicle, don't listen to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise.  They're going to make up a billion reasons why Houston could have won the game.  What they'll fail to notice is the value of adjustments.  Phil Jackson was relaxed after his Game 4 letdown.  Why?  Because he knew that what went wrong could be fixed.  And when the superior team plays with just as much intelligence as talent, the underdog is in for a rough night.  To save time, I'd like to clear up any misconceptions right here and now in FAQ-like form:

Original statement: Houston was hopeless.

Not so.  They manhandled the Lakers in Game 4.  Such a pummeling warranted consideration for a Game 5 upset.

Not exactly.  The Rockets were at home, were emotional, and had absolutely no pressure on them to win.  L.A. wasn't prepared for the kind of game that Houston played.  In Game 5, they were able to make the appropriate adjustments and run the Rockets "RIGHT OUT OF THE BUILDING!"

Was that a Kevin Harlan reference?

Absolutely.

Ok, but what about Ron Artest?  Nobody thought he would shoot this poorly for two nights in a row.  Had he played well, Houston could have won.

You're forgetting about the incredible offensive production that we had from Aaron Brooks and Shane Battier in Game 4.  That wasn't about to happen again.  Even if Ron had scored 30, we still would have lost by a handful, as Brooks' and Battier's production would most likely decrease.

I'm not convinced.  We knew Kobe would get his points, but how can you explain Andrew Bynum scoring 14 points after being benched for the whole series?

Bynum is the second 7 footer that LA put on the floor.  He was guarded by Luis Scola, who isn't exactly known for his vertical leap.  Bynum was able to use his size and strength to withstand contact from Scola and either grab offensive rebounds at will, or go up strong to set up a three point play.  Bynum wasn't going to be silent for the entire series - that would be a naive assumption.  Rather, Phil Jackson saw that Bynum's presence would be an advantage for LA and would improve on their poor post play in Game 4.

Our defense could have at least kept the game in the 70-80 point range.  That would have given us a great chance to win.

The defense itself rarely changes from game to game.  We still shuffle our feet, close out on jump shots, and play good help defense in the paint.  Where the problem truly lies is in turning the ball over and giving up offensive rebounds.  Those two statistics have been the achilles heel of our D all series long.  When the Lakers can pile on the second-chance and fast break points, we're doomed.

We could have had some favorable officiating...?

Not with Bennett Salvatore on the court.  He's Tim Donaghy without the motive.  Louis Braille had better vision.

You're just biased.

Really?  Take a look at this video:

Bennett would whistle Marjele for double-dribble.

I digress.

 

For self-esteem's sake, I hope everyone realizes how improbable it was for us to win tonight.  I won't say impossible, because, let's face it, we've done some pretty incredible things in the past.  But this game was different - it was too much for our scrappy Rockets to handle.

We weren't in the friendly confines of Toyota Center.  We didn't have the home crowd cheering for us after every hustle play.  Our adrenaline wasn't going to be an ally.  Instead, we had to fight off the energy that the Laker fans brought to their hometown team.  Not that they really needed it.

From the opening bucket of the game, an alley-oop to Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles made it clear that they were going to attack the paint.  Bynum scored the first six Laker points.  To make matters worse, our best post defender, Chuck Hayes, picked up two horrible quick fouls and was sent to the bench.  In comes Carl Landry, and thus, our post defense is ruined.  It took a while for Gasol to get going, but by the second quarter, he was putting on a clinic.  On mulitple possessions, he made Luis Scola and Brian Cook look silly by making quick moves on the block, allowing him to take another step for a wide-open dunk or layup.  Gasol also ruled over the boards, as Scola, Cook, and Landry did a poor job boxing out.  Pau had five offensive rebounds in the game, and kept many plays alive with tips.  We had no answer for him, especially with Hayes out of the game.

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I was disappointed that the referees weren't allowing Hayes to be as physical with Gasol as he was in Game 4.  Can't say I'm particularly surprised, because home court does make a difference, and after all, Bennett was out there.  But there were too many quick whistles on Chuck that I didn't think warranted fouls.  Gasol is one to yell quite often for calls (I'm not just homering this one, it's true), and he plays with so much energy that referees confuse his lack of control with actual contact.  Hopefully Chuck will be given more leniency in Game 6.

Bynum's return was no surprise, as was Kobe Bryant's excellent first half.  We've all seen Bryant play long enough to know how well he can adjust from game to game.  He finished with twenty points, and was on fire in the first quarter.  LA did a good job setting picks for Bryant that allowed him to pull up much closer to the basket than he had been all series.  He probably made about five of his jump shots from within fifteen feet.  Shane Battier will need to do a better job forcing Kobe to take the long jumpers in Game 6.  I'm sure Daryl Morey is meeting with him in the Battcave as we speak.

While Los Angeles did play very well, and while I wasn't expecting our squad to repeat its Game 4 performance, there were plenty of areas in which I thought the Rockets could have played much, much better.  After all, we were still in the game for most of the first quarter...right guys?  Am I right?

For one, our three point shooting was horrendous.  Battier mentioned before the game that we needed to shoot between 30-40 threes to have a chance to win.  Well, we shot 29, and we only made five of them.  Everyone goes cold at some point, but shot selection also has something do to with it.  Game 4 was a game of kick-out passes for threes.  Everything was catch and shoot.  Tonight, aside from Battier, everyone was pulling up.  Aaron Brooks had one opportunity to hit a catch-and-shoot three, and he missed it, but it had a much higher chance of going in than his other shots.

Actually, you know what, screw it.  There's no point in BS-ing about anyone else's shot selection tonight, because you know that at the end of the day, I'm going to complain about Ron Artest.

Where to begin?  How about with the four turnovers?  Nah, that's all too common at this point.  How about the zero free throw attempts?  Or the 4/15 shooting?  No, I'll begin with Ron's three point bonanza.  TNT broadcaster Doug Collins, who isn't exactly my favorite, said the words "bad shot, bad possession" about three times over the course of the first three quarters, and each time he said it, he was talking about an Artest miss from three land.  Let's put on our thinking caps for a second.  What is easier - dribbling for ten seconds and then fading away with a hand in your face like all the fellas do in Queensbridge, or actually spotting up for an open three and being of some value to your offense?  I mean, my goodness - speaking of chances, there was no chance in hell of any of those shots going in.  True, he made one, but that was on a well-timed shot that Ron is comfortable with.  We all know that Ron's comfort zone is more confusing than hieroglyphics, but some of the shots he took tonight -- even Ron himself didn't look like he was confident in them.

We need Ron on offense.  It's imperative that he shoots the ball more effectively.  It's absolutely critical that he scores more than just nine points if our season is to stay on life support.  Our all-world center is out, and we'll need to be shooting a lot more from the outside; we know this.  But that doesn't give Ron an excuse to parade around jacking up prayers like LeBron James on 60 Minutes.  Ball movement can still exist without the big man in the middle.  And so can good shot selection.

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Why is Luis Scola so timid out there?  He's suddenly afraid to shoot his trademark elbow jumper.  He keeps pausing as he catches a pass, and then will shoot the ball and immediately run forward like Ichiro does when he's at bat.  For Diego's sake, Luis, have some confidence in your shot!  Go up strong on your layups!  We have all seen you do it from November to April, but for some reason, May has been a whole new Scola.  The hustle is there - now Luis has to find the confidence.  He should also find some glue for those hands.  "Passing to Luis Scola" is currently marked as Yellow on the risk color chart.

Aaron Brooks could not get into the paint, and had to settle for dribbling the air out of the basketball.  Each possession included a ten second runoff featuring Brooks, as he would casually stroll from sideline to sideline while looking for something to do.  The words "pass" and "cut" obviously are of no meaning to Aaron at this point.  If the Lakers are going to work to keep Brooks out of the paint, then he should look to take advantage of the early help defense by looking to pass back to the screener on the pick and roll.  Or, he could simply pass the ball and run through some picks to spot up on the three point line, thus saving our possession some valuable time.  And if he does decide to pass it, no more lobs.  I'm sick of seeing lazy passes get picked off for breakaway dunks.

Seventeen more turnovers.  Well, at least we're consistent!

Brian Cook playing nineteen minutes is quite embarrassing.  There is no better barometer for our success at this point than Brian Cook's minutes.  The less Brian plays, the more we see from Chuck Hayes, and the longer Chuck is on the floor, the more our post defense improves.  When Brian is out there, bad things are usually happening.  Like his 0-7 performance from the field.  Yuck.

On that note, it was a terrible shooting night for all Rockets in general.  There were only three Rockets who shot 50% or higher from the field: Brent Barry, Carl Landry, and, yes, Chuck Hayes.  Kyle Lowry went 1/7, James White (gasp) went 0/6, Battier went 2/7 - it was generally pathetic.  We were missing open shots like we did in Game 3, only these weren't quite as important (thank the lord).  We should easily improve in Game 6.

While I still have the chance, I'd like to state my newfound appreciation for Shannon Brown.  I would love to have this guy on my team.  He's a strong guard with an excellent outside shot, and he plays tenacious defense without losing his head.  L.A. stole him from Charlotte, and the best news for them is that he still has plenty of years left ahead of him to develop.  Praising an opponent is never on my to-do list, but I think Brown deserves some attention for how well he has played.

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So that's that.  Terrible game for Houston, nice bounce-back game for Los Angeles.  For a forty point playoff loss, I'm in a pretty confident mood.  Each team knows that Game 6 is far from decided.

Just as Phil Jackson wasn't worried going into Game 5, I'm not worried going into Thursday night.  For one, I will be in attendance, so we've got spiritual intervention on our side.  Secondly, the Rockets know what hurt them tonight and what they need to change.  Yao and Dikembe will be sure to get them in the right mindset before it all begins.  There is no plausible reason for what happened tonight to happen again in Game 6.  If we have been hustling like maniacs all season long, then I'm looking forward to seeing how much heart we will exhibit with our season on the line.  I'm looking forward to what we can do when it matters most.

NBA Playoffs Blog Coverage, Schedule and Scores - SB Nation

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