Lakers vs. Rockets Game 2 Recap: The good, the bad, and the chippy

“Well, that escalated quickly.  I mean, that really got out of hand.”

“It jumped up a notch.”

“It did, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, I killed a man with a trident.”

Ok, so game 2 wasn’t a bi-lingual blood fest involving 5 news teams, but up until that last part, it’s about as hard hitting analysis of the game as you can get.  We’ll break the recap into two parts, one about basketball and the other about the complete sideshow that occurred at the end of the 3rd/beginning of the 4th.

As it should be, basketball first.

What we can learn from game 2.

The Lakers offensive performance (or lack thereof) in game one was a fluke.   

Many of the same shots that didn’t go in game one were raining in game 2, especially in a first quarter performance that hasn’t been seen since … a couple weeks ago against the Jazz.  The Rockets are unquestionably better defensively than the Jazz, and, for one quarter, the Lakers were still able to score at will against the Rockets.  Pau Gasol was much improved (9-13, 22 points and 14 rebounds) and was back to nailing the types of shots he has been hitting all year.  He also did a much better job of attacking Yao, part of why Ming had foul trouble and was so ineffective.  That being said, the Lakers performance in the 1st quarter was also a fluke.  The rest of the game gave a clearer picture of what this series will be like.  Sometimes, the Rockets D will make points very hard to come by, but the well isn’t going to be dry all the time, especially when Kobe Bryant is your well.

Ron Artest’s offensive performance in game one may not have been a fluke.

Ron Artest played outside of his mind tonight, right up until he lost his mind (more on this later), and this should scare Lakers fans.  For the 2nd game in a row, Artest played great on the offensive end.  I’m still not convinced he can do it consistently, because we’ve all seen evidence to the contrary throughout his career.  He took some really questionable shots tonight, and still shot over 50% from the field, and from 3 point range.  He also completely out muscled Ariza, causing Jackson to play Walton (20 min) almost as much as Ariza (25 min).  If he can keep it up over the course of the series, beating the Rockets becomes considerably more difficult than advertised.

Andrew Bynum is not likely to provide a strong contribution to this series.

Bynum was benched after an ineffective game one, and only managed 10 minutes of playing time in a game in which Yao Ming only played 26 minutes because of foul trouble.  Jackson has decided that Bynum isn’t effective against Yao (or else Bynum would still be starting), and yet even with Yao out for a large portion of both halves, Drew still didn’t get much PT.  And he got out-rebounded by Aaron Brooks.  If he can’t play against Yao, and he can’t play against Rockets not named Yao, the Lakers and their fans can’t expect much out of Drew in this series.

The Lakers bench really isn’t very good right now

Stat line for the Lakers bench:   22 points on 9-24 shooting, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 steals. 

Stat line for Carl Landry: 21 points on 7-9 shooting, 10 rebounds.

That, folks, is bad news.  Yes, the steals were great, and the bench didn’t even have one of its really bad games, but the lineup of Farmar, Bynum, Brown, Vujacic, and LO lost a big chunk of that first quarter lead ( I don’t even blame the players, what the hell was PJ thinking with that rotation?).  Farmar provided some positive play tonight, which was nice to see, but he still ended up 2-7.  Outside of that, there doesn’t seem to be anybody on the Lakers bench who is capable of providing the team with a spark, which is exactly what Landry provided Houston.  The Lakers have enough talent in the starting lineup to be able to win a game without much help from the bench, but the bench play has to improve for the Lakers to have a realistic chance to achieve the team’s championship aims.

Kobe Bryant can win you a basketball game.

OK, we all knew this already, but you can’t do a recap of the game without mentioning his performance.  40 points on 16-27 shooting.  Some tough shots, and I wasn’t thrilled with some of his shot selection, but they were dropping tonight and he definitely gave the Lakers what they needed.

And now for the circus.

It all started when LO and Scola started jabbering at each other midway through the 3rd.  Late in the quarter, LO drove to the hole and, according to Derek Fisher, “Scola was tugging his jersey even more to pull him down.”  Lamar started talking, Scola talked back, Luke Walton got involved, everyone got T’d up , and the Lakers managed to lose a point by getting a two shot foul, thanks to missed free throws.

Then, at the end of the 3rd, Fish sees Scola coming up to set a screen, leans in with his shoulder to Scola’s  chest, and gets tossed.  Moments later, Kobe and Artest are battling for a rebound, Kobe gets a little loose with his elbows, manages to get one near Artest’s throat, the refs call the foul wrong on Artest, Artest goes to argue the call for a second, and then the crazy switch in his mind flips to on, and he careens across the court to get in Kobe’s face about the elbow to the throat.  He, too, gets tossed.  The refs proceed to call 30 fouls over the next 2 minutes of game time (only a slight exaggeration) and the 4th quarter was pretty painful to watch from there on out.  Meanwhile, just to add pointless drama, Von Wafer gets himself thrown out of the game by his own coach, for reasons unknown.  It’s pretty sad when Sasha Vujacic is in your head that much.

Opinions on this are a dime a dozen, and are generally going to be right down party lines (i.e. Houston’s fans will call it dirty, L.A.’s fans call it playoff basketball).  The truth is, both sides are right.  Was Fisher’s foul a bit of a cheap shot?  Yes.  LA is a finesse team, and the Rockets had been pushing them around in the series.  Fisher wanted to send the message that the Lakers were going to push back.  It was a pre-meditated action on his part, and therefore a cheap shot, in the strictest definition.  That being said, people saying that Fisher was out to hurt Scola need to watch the replay.  Fish leaned in with his shoulder, not his elbow.  Scola outweighs Fish by 40 pounds.  I think the part of the foul that did the most damage to Scola was the inadvertent head to head contact.  It was a message foul, worse than what Deron Williams did to Bynum a few weeks back, but not much worse(as pointed out by PJ during the 3rd quarter interview).   The refs were probably right to eject him considering the circumstances, and you can bet that Fish will be watching game three from the locker room, and that’s pretty much that.

People calling Kobe’s elbow dirty?  I guess you see what you want to see.  If you want to say he knew exactly what he was doing, then its dirty.  I don't see it that way.  I saw two guys fighting for a rebound, Artest muscling Kobe out, and Kobe trying to get back some position.  He was boxing out and the elbow got involved.  Happens all the time, except that Artest was so low that his throat was where his chest should have been.  Did the refs get it wrong?  Absolutely.  Should have been a foul on Kobe, but that’s it.  It was a clear out.  It’s two guys going for the ball, in an intense game.

Artest’s reaction was just classic Artest.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player complaining to the ref for 10 seconds before deciding he was really mad about what happened and doing something about it.  On the one hand, I agree with both Kobe and Artest that he shouldn’t have been ejected for it, but on the other hand, you can understand why the refs would respond that way to Artest running across the court to get right in Kobe’s face like that, and Artest HAS to know that he has to live by different rules than other players due to his history.

Back to my initial contention, both Houston fans and L.A. fans are right.  The Lakers were a little bit dirty tonight, and you know what, that’s playoff basketball.  Sure, we’re no longer in the glory days of dirty playoff basketball, where a Kevin Mchale clothesline is a good, hard foul, and the “Jordan” rules are allowed to exist.  But Boston is probably one of the dirtier teams in the league, and that toughness won them a championship last year. 

The bottom line is that the Lakers needed a win and got one.  The series is now tied, headed to Houston, and we are in for a real combative, competitive series that will hopefully be more entertaining than controversial from here on out.

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