Revenge is sweet. Sure, there may be a lot of losses between our respective records, but after blowing a big lead in the first game of the season in Los Angeles and losing by two to the Lakers, it's nice to get one back. Perhaps this will end the hex that started our downward spiral. The rubber match will be in LA (of course) on February 1. I'm hoping by then it's a very significant game to both teams, and that we break their flinty purple hearts.
LA came in losing three in a row, with "Falling Sky" a natural hazard being added to those that currently plague LA. Now Angelenos have another disaster to fear along with earthquakes, mudslides, fires, riots, locusts, wildcats, rat hordes, street gangs, movie stars, smog alerts, agents, freeways, raw food enthusiasts, property taxes, bike thieves, unsolicited screenplays, parking tickets, the "marine layer", and Jack Nicholson. Well, the sky is accelerating downwards, with Staples Center in its sights, because LA has now lost 4 in a row. This is something that hasn't happened since the team
stole acquired Pau Gasol. Other stat mavens noted that no Phil Jackson title-winning team has ever lost 4 in a row. I hope that proves to be a tremendously meaningful statistic, and I'm happy we helped provide it.
On to the game.
To sum up, this is the Rockets team I expected to see all season. It's taken awhile, but it has shown up. I hope it stays. The Rockets never let the game get away from them. LA went on runs, with Lamar Odom playing out of his mind. In the third quarter he was 12/14 shooting, with no shots even touching the net it seemed. Also playing well was Kobe Bryant, who was giving Kevin Martin an efficiency lesson early on. But the Rocket hung around. Every time LA looked to run away a Rocket, or Rockets, stepped up. In the late first and second quarters, it was the bench, who outscored LA's bench 40-30 (and it would have been more if they'd not let the despicable Matt Barnes get away with being himself).
In the third quarter, it was Kevin Martin, coming alive, driving the rim, sinking shots, drawing fouls. The Lakers almost pulled away again, but the Rockets held them close.
On to the 4th, and LA went on a run again, lead by the vile Matt Barnes, and that familiar sinking feeling began again. With 6:28 left in the game the Rockets had gone down 91-84. The refs had put LA in the penalty very early in both quarters of the second half and Kobe Bryant sauntered into the game after a nice long rest. It was easy to imagine the rest of the script. Kobe drives, Kobe gets brushed by an invisible butterfly wing, Kobe shoots FT. Goodbye game. But Shane Battier had a surprise ending in store for us all.
Something odd happened, in trying to take over the game, Bryant did too much. His first action on relieving Barnes was to foul Kevin Martin on a three pointer. FTs1,2,3 all went in. Judging by his expression this was evidently the first foul ever called on Kobe. But Kobe collected his thoughts and answered back despite great D, and drained a tough J over Battier. Lowry answered with a 3pter. I may not want him shooting those, but I'm forgiving when he hits them. Then Kobe decided to take over on D again. This time he fouled Scola. 2 FT made. But alas, Kobe went to the line again, 2ft his way. Kevin Martin answered with a nifty jumper. 95-94 Lakers by 1 with 4:05 left. Timeout LA. Here's where the FauxZenMaster will work his magic, surely.
Instead the Lakers started missing, as the Rockets clamped down on defense. Jordan Hill stuck to Pau Gasol like glue, and a gassed Gasol missed a shot he normally drains. Next trip down after a Rockets miss Bryant can't connect with great D from Battier, and Fisher misses too off the offensive rebound. Shane has the board, but somehow, someway, nothing to do with LA I'm sure, ends up on his back, and the ball to LA. Ok. Timeout LA.
LA comes out of a timeout with Kobe in full takeover mode again. He darts, spins, fakes and finally nails a long turnaround 2 with Shane's hand in his face, a shot very few players could make. Remember how I said Shane had a surprise ending in store? Here it comes. Battier takes a pass from Lowry in the corner for "his" 3pter. Splash. He D's up Kobe on the other end, a miss, and Scola rips the ball out of Gasol's hands. The Rockets are running. Lowry to Shane in the corner again. Splash. 2:28 left. Rockets up 100-97.
LA down the court again. Kobe again, and he drives and dives into Shane, hits the deck. Whistle on Battier. 2Ft. 100-99. Rockets take the ball down the court, (Jordan Hill has remained in the game at center, by the way I'm shocked). Rockets ball and Lowry looks for Martin, but Speed dishes to Battier. Shane ball fakes and drives Kobe towards the rim. Kobe flops while grabbing Battier. Shane calmly nails a jumper with Kobe writhing on the ground like an Italian soccer player. 102-99 Rockets.
LA down the court, the Rockets defend the Lakers into a 24 second violation. Fisher tries to get a shot off over Shane who'd switched off Kobe knowing the only Fisher had time to shoot. Fisher throws his hands in the air as though hit by a sniper, but nothing is called, because, oddly enough, there was nothing to call. After a timeout Houston comes down the court, and immediately turns over the ball on a traveling call on Martin. The call was close but correct. But, but really? Traveling? Now? The call stinks of selective enforcement, but alas, Lakers ball.
Lakers down the court. They whip the ball around to Kobe, well beyond the arc. He launches a three. Last year these all went in, this time it is off and Jordan Hill tracks down the rebound, taking it from Gasol. Rockets ball, and they are running time off the clock. Battier gets it, but not in his corner. Fisher is on him, and Shanes elevates the shot into Fisher. Foul. 1,2,3 Fts made. 105-99 Rockets with :41 seconds left. Timeout Lakers.
Ball down court for the Lakers. Kobe launches a well-defended 3. Clank. Gasol gets the board over Hill, but wait, what's this, Gasol shoved Hill in the back? And it was called? Glory be. Jordan Hill, normally not reliable at the line calmly drains both. 107-99 with :29 seconds left. LA down the court again. Odom launches a three and finally misses. Martin grabs the board and alertly takes the ball downcourt until he's grabbed, he naturally drains his FT. With :14 seconds left Bryant launches another 3pter. Clang. Then Barnes. Clang. Martin grabs the board and the game ends.
Why the long recap? This was the most satisfying game in a season lacking in satisfaction. Let's go Rockets.