• One of the media mantras was “the Lakers can’t win unless Kobe stays hot on jumpers.” Well, he didn’t in game three. He started out hot, 5 of 6 and setting the tone, but after that he went 6 of 22 from the floor. And the Lakers still won comfortably.
• Of course, the Mantra around here is the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them. One thing the Lakers did well, particularly in the second half (in part due to the play of Bynum), was protect the paint. The Rockets entire offense is predicated on knocking down jumpers as Yao or penetration allows kick-outs to open shooters. In the first half, the Rockets took just 9 shots outside the paint (hitting five). But in the second half it was jumper city — they were 4 of 20 outside the paint. They were 1 of 13 outside the paint in the third. Some of those were good, open looks, but it emphasizes the point that you want the Rockets shooting from the outside, ideally not threes. If they get points in the paint, they are harder to stop.
• Darius added this about Kobe’s defense in the game:
When the All Defensive First Team was announced, there was a lot of debate about Kobe being included on that unit. Many thought (and maybe still do think) that he is not deserving of that distinction. Well, tonight he showed why he’s held in such high regard as a defensive player. Many will remember his blocked shots (especially the lefty swat of Yao’s layup attempt), but in re-watching the DVR I again saw how smart he can be on D. He was cutting off angles in anticipation of passes to Battier on the wing where Houston was trying to move the ball to a position to make a post entry to Yao. He was sagging just enough off Battier (who was in the corner) when the ball was on the strong side to discourage the post entry from the guard who had the ball at the wing extended. He was working his way through screens and getting in the passing lanes. And in the 4th quarter, when Ariza picked up his fifth foul, Kobe switched on to Artest and battled him for every inch of hardwood and limited Ron’s catches when he was really starting to do damage against Trevor. Houston was trying to make a push in those final minutes and with Yao hobbling, Artest was the guy that was scoring. Kobe switched on to him and we got the stops we needed because Ron couldn’t get a good touch or get up a decent look. Kobe may have had a big scoring night, but he did some real damage on D as well.
• The Lakers forced turnovers on 19% of the Rockets possessions for the night, a very good number. It did not lead to the fast pace we had wanted to see (just 91 possessions, a very Rockets pace) but the number of empty possessions really added up for Houston. Especially when the Lakers turned the ball over on 7% of their possessions.
• When was the last time we saw that balanced a Lakers performance?
• As I think most of us have said, the league needs to reduce the Flagrant 2 on Artest for the foul on Gasol. That simply was not a flagrant in my book, make if a Flagrant 1 if they feel they must, but that is not a suspension-worthy foul.
• I also hope Yao can play Sunday. We’ll keep an eye out for reports on his foot. Zephid said it well:
I think any rational basketball fan (and they are few and far between) has to appreciate the heart of Yao Ming. Every fan, Houston or opposing, can tell that he’s giving his all on the court, and that he’ll do anything to win that won’t compromise the integrity of the game. People universally respect his determination, so it’s natural that rational people will want to play with/against Yao Ming, because he is simply a competitor. Watching him limping up and down the court in the 4th, you could see the pain in his eyes, not just physical, but the emotional pain of not being 100% to lead his team. Then, seeing him dunk on Gasol and Odom’s heads late in the 4th on his gimpy leg, you could tell that he has enough heart for two men. I don’t think enough can be said about Yao Ming. He has so much heart, so much fire, but he never crosses the line to arrogance a la KG.
• As Led and Harold noted in the comments, when you commit to fronting Yao, you can expect he is going to have a bit night on the offensive glass because you can’t box him out (without doubling, which you are trying not to do every second of every play). It’s something for the Lakers to be aware of, to know where he is and get a body on him, but this is a trade off.
• The Lakers.com people gave Shannon Brown a camera to tape some of the trip to Utah, check out the video. An observation: Pau Gasol pretty much always looks like he just woke up 30 seconds ago.