With trade speculation swirling, the Lakers down their starting Center, and a disheartening loss to Boston still on their minds the Lakers were in a tough situation against Houston. The Rockets always give them a hard time but the Lakers really needed a win going into Thursday’s match up with the Spurs. And while it took overtime to get it, the Lakers achieved what they set out to do by holding after a late rally to beat the Rockets 114-106.
Certainly this wasn’t the Lakers best game. The entire night the Rockets hustled to get to loose balls and really attacked the offensive glass (16 total O-rebounds for the Rockets). And Kevin Martin was his usual efficient self by dropping in 30 points on only 15 shots, including 4-8 on three pointers and 10-11 from the FT line. The Rockets battled all night and stayed in the game with sheer grit and effort for the entire contest. Give them all the credit in the world for how hard they played and their ability to take advantage of every Laker miscue.
But the Lakers were just too big and their best players were just too good over the course of the evening to lose this game. And while there were plenty of times that it looked like the Lakers wouldn’t be able to pull it out – none more so than when Houston took a 4 point lead in overtime – Kobe, Gasol, and Odom just wouldn’t allow it.
The Lakers’ big three on the night were simply outstanding. Kobe started the game in a distributing mode as he tallied 7 first quarter assists and became the youngest player ever to join the 25 thousand point, 5 thousand assist club. He picked out teammates with pin point passes and took advantage of a helping Rocket defense whenever they sent the double team as he maneuvered at the elbow and shallow wing on the weak side. The rest of the game he became more of a scorer by mixing in his mid-range jumper with his work from the foul line and down, using post ups and drives to try and attack the Rockets D. Kobe ended the night with 32 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds and shot over 50% for the 7th time in his last 8 games.
Meanwhile Gasol also played a very good game overall. The big Spaniard bounced back from his poor showing against the C’s by pouring in 26 points while grabbing 16 rebounds (6 offensive) and consistently tried to go inside against the under-sized yet physical Chuck Hayes. Pau battled for post position and played through contact pretty effectively to ultimately have his way with the Rockets. It wasn’t his most efficient night (though he shot 50% from the floor) and it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing performance but I was happy with the way he fought in the post and attacked the glass.
But the player that seemingly made the most impact was Lamar Odom. Back in the starting lineup with Bynum out, it took a bit of time for LO to find his offensive rhythm. But when he finally did, it was a sight to see as he rained in jumpers from the mid-range out the three point line and attacked the basket in the open court when given the opportunity. Lamar made 4 of his 5 of his FG’s in the final frame (including a beautiful coast to coast finish) with his only miss coming of the final shot of regulation where the Lakers designed play to get Kobe a shot broke down and LO was forced to fire as the buzzer sounded. But while Odom ended the night with 20 points on 18 shots, his real work came on the glass as he grabbed 20 of the Lakers 54 total rebounds on the night including 8 big offensive boards to get his team extra possessions.
In the end, this was a win the Lakers needed but it bares repeating that they didn’t play that great of a game overall. By allowing Houston to grab as many offensive rebounds that they did and by committing some foolish fouls on Kevin Martin (and not marking him behind the three point line well enough) this game was a nail biter throughout. And when you combine that with the fact that the Lakers bench only scored 16 points total (9 from Blake and 7 from Shannon) while surrendering 33 to the Rockets’ reserves (including 16 alone for Aaron Brooks) this game easily could have gone the other way. Houston had an offensive efficiency of 109.3 on the night, so there were also plenty of defensive miscues on the night – including on the Rockets last offensive possession of the game where they ran a P&R into a hand off sequence at the top of the key that ultimately freed Luis Scola for the game tying basket to force the overtime. But, a win is a win and I’ll happily take it. Hopefully the Lakers can use this game as a springboard into Thursday’s match up with the Spurs (who happened to lost to the Blazers tonight) and gain another game on them in the race for the West’s top seed. But that’s on Thursday. Today, enjoy this win. It was hard fought and could have been better, but the record book showing the W is all that matters.