Playing without veteran PG Derek Fisher, (serving a one game suspension), the Los Angeles Lakers showed their mettle and defeated the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center, 108-94, to take a 2-1 series lead. Jordan Farmar started in place of Fisher and the much maligned third year pro responded with a complete and steady performance. Farmar, (33 minutes, 12 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot), effectively neutralized Houston’s speedy PG, Aaron Brooks, limiting him to 7 points and forcing him into 3 turnovers. The Lakers quickly capitalized on the Rockets behind the play of Kobe Bryant, (33 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocked shots), and came out ablaze in the opening period. Kobe connected on his first 5-6 shots in the quarter and despite the parade of boos that continually rained down on him, silenced the crowd each time with his offensive display. But the Rockets somehow managed to survive the outburst by the Lakers and trailed only 30-28 after the horn sounded to end the first stanza.
The Lakers and Rockets played to a standstill in the second period as both teams could not find the bottom of the basket. Each time the Rockets tried to regain the momentum, the Lakers forced a turnover resulting in an easy basket. Houston committed 17 turnovers in the contest compared to only 6 for the Lakers. Kobe’s shooting touch failed him in the 2nd period, as he missed 6-7 shots. Houston took a three point lead at 46-43, but consecutive turnovers in the final 90 seconds of the half resulted in the Lakers going into halftime with a 50-48 lead. The 3rd quarter opened with the Lakers taking immediate command of the game. Lamar Odom, (16 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocked shots), and Farmar connected on back-to-back treys, extending the lead to 60-52. Houston shot miserably, hitting only 6-25 shots in the quarter. Pau Gasol, (13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists), got untracked and displayed his ball handling skills, going through his legs, crossing over, then lofting a 7-footer over Yao Ming, while picking up the foul on the 7’6″ center. A late corner three by Odom off a feed from a triple teamed Bryant pushed the lead to 71-58. With the Lakers holding the ball for the final shot with 3.5 seconds to play, Kobe took the inbounds pass, dribbled away from Artest, and casually launched a 35-footer that splashed through the net silencing the home crowd once again.
Houston made their run in the final period behind the play of their bench. Carl Landry, (10 points, 6 rebounds), Von Wafer, (9 points, 2 rebounds), and Kyle Lowry, (8 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), led the Rockets charge. But Shannon Brown, (8 points, 2-2, 4-4 free throws), Sasha Vujacic, (3 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal), and Trevor Ariza, (13 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 assists), kept the Rockets at bay, maintaining a 88-76 lead. Houston cut the lead to 90-84 on a Yao slam dunk with 4:15 left to play, but Farmar hit a 18-footer and Kobe splashed another trey pushing the lead back up to 11 points. Kobe, Pau and Farmar sealed the game with free throws as the Rockets were forced to foul. Artest led Houston, (25 points on 10-23 shooting, 2-8 from behind the arc, 6 rebounds), but he effectively shot the Rockets out of the game in the third quarter by launching a bevy of ill-advised three point attempts. Yao Ming, (19 points on 6-14 shooting, 14 rebounds), struggled against the swarming Lakers defense, as did Luis Scola, (10 points on 5-11 shooting, 12 rebounds). Luke Walton, (6 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal), and Andrew Bynum, (4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocked shots), were effective in the all-important 3rd quarter when the Lakers separated themselves from the Rockets. After their blistering 1st period where they shot 61%, the Lakers cooled considerably, ending with a paltry 43.9% for the game. But the difference in the game were the points scored off of Rocket turnovers and their suffocating defense. Game 4 is Sunday afternoon in Houston with D-Fish due back in uniform.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
I’ve said it all along… Jordan Farmar will play a key role in the Lakers run to another title. Not only did he play spectacular defense on Brooks, but his offense prowess returned after being AWOL for the better part of the second half of the season. On one particular defensive stop in the 4th quarter, Farmar hounded Brooks all over the court, never allowing him to penetrate, and ultimately forced him into a costly turnover that resulted in a pair of Farmar free throws at the other end. This one play was emblematic of Farmar’s play the entire game. Not only did he get his game back, but he also got his teammates fired up behind his defense and command of the offense. I couldn’t be happier for Farmar, who had to endure a long and painful education while riding the bench. Jordan matured right before our eyes in a pivotal game that the Lakers desperately needed to regain control of the series. Even ESPN commentators, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, hinted that perhaps Farmar should start the remainder of the series with his ability to stall the production of the Rockets backcourt. It was a long overdue, coming out party for Farmar and hopefully one that he can continue to build upon. I’m sure that Derek Fisher was probably beaming in Twittering glee with the play of his two wingmen. With D-Fish back in the line-up for Game 4, with Farmar and Brown reestablishing the moxie of the Bench Mob, and with Bynum finally staying out of foul trouble and playing effective, (although in limited minutes), the juggernaut that we all saw at the beginning of the season appears to be rounding nicely back into form.