Houston was riding on a string of 12 consecutive home victories and appeared poised to make it 13 in a row. With the Los Angeles Lakers trailing by 11 points at halftime, they came storming back in the second half by outscoring the Rockets, 62-45 to take a much needed 102-96 victory at the Toyota Center. Coming off their disappointing showing in Portland on Monday, the Lakers played without Lamar Odom, who was serving his one game suspension for coming off the bench during the fracas. Josh Powell started in his place, and in a surprise move, Trevor Ariza started in place of Luke Walton, who informed Phil Jackson earlier that day that Trevor deserved to start in his place. Powell did not disappoint, scoring a season high 17 points and adding 9 rebounds. But it was the Kobe Show in the 4th quarter that propelled the Lakers past the Rockets.
With the Lakers leading in the final quarter 75-72, Kobe checked back in with 6:57 left in the game. Seconds later, referee Gary Zielinski was separating Ron Artest and Kobe after elbows and pushes were exchanged. Artest continued to stalk Bryant as teammates quickly intervened and separated the two. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ Assistant Coaches barked for everyone to stay on the bench, impeding any forward progress by forming a human wall. Order was quickly restored and Artest continued to face-guard Kobe on the ensuing play. It was also apparent that the dialogue between the two was escalating and starting to boil over. After an Aaron Brooks trey tied the score, Kobe responded with a devastating barrage, scoring 18 points in the quarter, effectively silencing the crowd, Artest and anyone who stood in his way. It was a typical Kobe 4th quarter encore performance, draining improbable long distance threes, scoring on a reverse with his back to the basket and drawing the foul, and slicing through the double-team and maneuvering around Yao Ming to connect, plus one. Kobe finished with 37 points on an efficient 14-23 shooting, (31 coming in the second half), 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals. Pau Gasol added 20 points, with Derek Fisher, Trevor Ariza and Luke Walton contributing 8 points apiece. The play of the shortened bench did not show in the final box score, but they played with passion, intelligence and control. Both Jordan Farmer and Sasha Vujacic played the entire 4th quarter, playing effective defense and making timely plays to keep the momentum in favor of the Lakers.
With only 9 players logging minutes in this contest, the Lakers needed to execute with consistency, patience and determination. This they accomplished in the second half against Houston. The Bench Mob, what was left of them, performed admirably, playing under control, but more importantly, showing restraint from jacking up threes from all over the floor. They hustled for loose balls, saved possessions by retrieving stray balls heading for out-of-bounds, and displayed a maturity on the court which has not been evident for some time now. One can only hope that this carries over to San Antonio tonight where the Lakers face the 2nd seeded Spurs. Lamar will be back in action, or so we hope. Let’s face it, he’s been MIA for the past couple of weeks. And perhaps the Lakers can get back to the role of being the aggressor, not the retaliator. Oh, and by the way, Portland got clobbered at home against the bullying Dallas Mavericks last night.