The second half was a different story. The shots began to fall and the Lakers led by as many as 10 points in the 3rd quarter before coasting to a five point cushion heading into the final period. The 4th quarter was vintage Kobe Bryant as he dropped consecutive treys to knock the wind out of the Rockets. He finished with an efficient 20 points (7-11, 4-6 from behind the arc) and 7 assists. Pau Gasol led the way with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 3 steals, Derek Fisher added 15 points and 5 steals, and Lamar Odom contributed 9 points and 11 rebounds in a foul plagued 33 minutes of action. The Bench Mob’s shooting slump continued, but they did manage to outscore the Rockets bench 21-11, led by DJ Mbenga with 8 points, 2 blocked shots and the appearance of his own cheering section, the Bangin’ Mbengas. Both Luke Walton and Josh Powell provided some strength on the boards, collecting 6 and 5 rebounds respectively. The Rockets were forced into 18 turnovers compared to 10 for the Lakers, and the play was ragged throughout as tempers flared on numerous occasions with bad calls going both ways. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they shot only 14-22 from the line (64%), while the Lakers managed to hit 18-21 (86%). Next up for the Lakers is a Sunday evening encounter with their Staples Center roommates, the L.A. Clippers.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Where is Rudy T? Tomjanovich, a former Rockets player more infamously tied to Kermit Washington and “the punch,” and a former head coach of the 1994-95 back-to-back champions Houston Rockets, and the brief, momentary coach of the 2004-05 post-Shaq Los Angeles Lakers, is content in his current position as a Special Consultant for the Lakers. Away from the limelight, Rudy T is healthy, happy and content. Citing health issues, Rudy abruptly resigned as coach of the Lakers midway through his first season with the team. Tomjanovich was replaced by then Assistant Coach Frank Hamblen for the duration of the season. The Lakers failed to reach the playoffs for only the fifth time in their history amid a season full of plot twists and turns. He says that he was embarrassed by the episode and guilt-ridden for a lengthy time for leaving his assistants behind. But, Tomjanovich could not have done this any other way. The stress and mental anguish that he endured in his brief stint was more than he could physically endure. Coming off successful treatment for bladder cancer, Rudy was enamored with the prospect of leading the new-look Lakers. In retrospect, he clearly was not prepared for the rigors associated with NBA life and coaching.
The break-up of the Shaq-Kobe duo has been well documented with factions both pro-con for each side. Perhaps more damaging to the team that season was the departure of free agent Derek Fisher to Golden State, the trade of Gary Payton to Boston, plus the retirement of Rick Fox and the eventual retirement of Karl Malone. That left the Lakers extremely thin at point guard with Chucky Atkins leading the team and Tierre Brown as his primary back-up. A rail thin rookie named Sasha Vujacic was the third string point guard on that squad. The starting line-up that season featured the freshly resigned Kobe Bryant, newcomers Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and center Chris Mihm, and Atkins at the helm. Veteran free agent Vlade Divac was signed to provide his experience and shore up the middle, but he appeared in only 15 games that season hampered by a bad back. Divac eventually retired the following season. From all appearances at the outset, Karl Malone intended to return to the Lakers sometime during the season. Rehabbing his knee injury from the previous year allowed the Mailman ample time to make sure that he was at full strength. And just as he was ready to return, drama erupted with allegations from Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, that he had approached her inappropriately. Once the smoke cleared, both parties eventually downplayed the incident, but Malone quickly left Dodge.
A team that showed promise on paper quickly fell apart and caught in this turmoil was none other that Tomjanovich. His departure sparked much speculation about the status of his cancer, and his battle with alcohol. But he disclosed that the travel alone was enough to physically affect his lifestyle after battling cancer the previous year. Disappointed and ashamed, he nevertheless stayed on with the Lakers after his departure as a Scout as part of his contract settlement. Two years ago, Rudy fulfilled his contractual obligations with the Lakers. But he has been rehired the past two seasons as a Special Consultant to Mitch Kupchak. Rudy prepares in-depth scouting reports on every single player in the NBA. He was consulted before the Lakers traded for Trevor Ariza and continues to provide his expert analysis whenever the call comes from the home office. That he is thriving again is a true testament to Rudy’s will and perseverance. Rudy’s part in Lakers history may appear brief and inconsequential, but in reality, Rudy T continues to work his trade to help the team succeed in reaching its goal of winning another championship. “Never underestimate the heart of a champion.”