The first half of the Lakers-Rockets revenge game was as perfect as it could get. The Lakers shot seamlessly. They played hard. They rebounded. They kept Dwight in check. All of Houston’s scores came at the free throw line and the Lakers led by fourteen at the half. But the game soon led to disaster as the Lakers offense went south in the third and comatose in the fourth. Their fourteen point half time lead was cut to four and the Rockets finished with a fury, taking the lead by six. But D’antoni employed Hack-a-Dwight which gave the Lakers confidence and room to maneuver even though they trailed. Jodie Meeks hit a three with 1:46 left. Dwight bricked free throws. With 1.3 seconds left Steve Blake hit a game winning three. In a thrilling game the underdog Lakers shocked Houston, 99-98.
It began beautifully. On the road the Lakers have had sluggish and non productive first quarters. But on this night their guards connected on their perimeter jumpers, led by Steve Blake who had nine first quarter points. Nash looked like the old Nash and even had his way early coaxing Houston point guard Patrick Beverly into fouls. Chris Kaman in the starting lineup provided toughness on the defense end as well as a mid range jumper though he struggled in transition defense. The Lakers simply played harder than Houston early on, taking advantage of Houston’s anemic defense, though Dwight Howard did have four rebounds in the first quarter. The Lakers scored thirty six points in the first quarter and hustled on defense allowing Houston only nineteen points. They ended the quarter with an exclamation point, a Wesley Johnson three at the buzzer.
In the second quarter the Lakers continued their blistering shooting. There was a beautiful lob pass from Pau Gasol to Wesley Johnson. There were open threes as the Rockets rotations were a step slow. The Rockets stayed in the game through transition defense. Either it was Jeremy Lin driving the ball on Jodie Meeks or James Harden driving the ball on whoever thought they could guard him. The Rockets continued to go the line. In two sequences Dwight Howard missed four free throws as bad as you could possibly miss. But Harden and Chandler Parsons and Lin rarely missed. Still they trailed by fourteen at half.
The third quarter began with cold shooting by the Lakers and the Rockets cut the lead to four. It’s clear the Howard/Asik twin towers lineup is awkward. Howard looked dazed and confused. He finished the game with 15 points. Still the Rockets survived Howard’s malaise by Harden and Lin making shots and the Lakers frozen bricks from the perimeter giving them ample opportunity to run. The Rockets continued to drive the ball on the Lakers missed shots which set up transition buckets at the rim or open Lin jumpers or free throws. The Rockets took 52 foul shots.
You knew they were coming. The Lakers were unable to stem the emotional tide in the fourth quarter. But they did not panic either. Houston fed them a steady diet of Harden and Lin and Parsons and with a third of the game left the Lakers were behind. That was when they began the Hack-a-Howard. It started at the three minute mark. It was sublime in its execution. Howard on the night missed eleven free throws. But the Lakers offense could not make his misses count. Down by two they fouled Howard with less than fifty seconds and, naturally, he missed. But Harden swiped the ball from Jodie Meeks on the following possession. Pau grabbed a Houston miss with ten seconds left. The Lakers tried to fumble it away with a bad inbound pass that Wes Johnson had to scramble for and it eventually went out of bounds on a Houston defection. Down by two, with 3.5 seconds Patrick Beverly switched and left Steve Blake open for a three. Dwight Howard ran at him a little too late. The basket put the Lakers up by one with 1.2 seconds left, and they held on to win the game.
If the Lakers showed anything by this performance it is they have basketball character. They are gritty, tough and compete hard. When that happens anything is possible.
Player of the Game- Steve Blake. Not just for his game winning three. But he also started the Lakers off with a dynamic first quarter, making 3 out of 4 threes and scoring nine points.
He should have stayed home- Pau Gasol. 2 points. 1-10. Remind me what he did in this game besides fouling Howard and grabbing the last rebound.
He said WHAT?- “We have to make up for each other’s mistakes”- Steve Blake “We were taking a three”-Mike D’antoni. “My free throws were terrible tonight. Have to get back in the gym tonight.”- Dwight Howard.
Highlight of the Night: Gasol lob to Wesley Johnson; Dwight Howard tip in of a Laker miss, Hack-a-Dwight which was hilarious.
The Kobe System- Jodie Meeks. 18 points. Five three’s, especially the big one with less than two minutes left and the Lakers trailing.
Remember This – After six games the Lakers are 3-3, the same record as the Clippers. They are proving to themselves if they compete every night they can find ways to win games.