Annihilated. Routed. Pathetic. Punked again. Take your pick, because the Los Angeles Lakers forgot to show up for Game 4 against the Houston Rocket at the Toyota Center, losing in embarrassing fashion, 99-87. And don’t let the final score fool you either, because without their 33-16 4th quarter run for respectability, the difference could have easily been over 20 points. On the first play of the game after the Lakers had won the opening tip, Trevor Ariza stumbled, lost control of the ball, flicked it behind him to save it from going out of bounds, and instead dished it off for a perfect assist to Ron Artest who layed it up at the other end. It was that type of day for the hapless Lakers, who in the 1st quarter alone, were manhandled, 29-16. Not even Kobe Bryant could save them from this disaster today. Their turnovers only appeared to be in the hundreds, but it was their lack of energy and effort that knotted up the series at two games apiece. Minus injured center Yao Ming, the undersized Rockets out-hustled, out-smarted, and out-played the Lakers in every category. The lone bright spot for the Lakers is that there are still 3 games left, with two at Staples Center, to try to close out the Rockets. But after this poor performance, even the experts have serious concerns about their lack of a killer instinct, their inefficient bench, and playing down to the level of the competition.
Houston exploded out of the gates, taking a 22-7 lead behind a barrage of three point baskets by Shane Battier, (23 points, 5-10 behind the arc), and Aaron Brooks, (career playoff high 34 points, 4-9 from three point range). Meanwhile, the Lakers lackadaisical play on both ends of the court only energized the short-handed Rockets more. Chuck Hayes started in place of Yao Ming, and consistently pushed Pau Gasol out of position and challenged every shot he took. In the past, the Lakers have managed to withstand these outbursts and weather the storm, but today, they were hit by a Houston hurricane of gale force proportions. Houston continued its spirited play in the 2nd quarter, extending the lead to 54-36 at the end of the first half. Kyle Lowery, (12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), Luis Scola, (11 points, 14 rebounds), and Brooks led the onslaught, and even seldom used Brian Cook got into the fray by knocking down a three pointer in the period. Brooks had his way with any defender that the Lakers threw at him, and not even Ron Artest’s poor shooting, (8 points on 4-19, 0-6 from beyond the arc, 10 rebounds, 6 assists), could help the Lakers today.
Any chance of regrouping and coming out strong in the 3rd quarter was quickly dispelled by the Rockets. A pair of Brooks treys and another from Battier extended the lead to 27 points, and the rout was well underway. Lamar Odom, (2 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists), finally drove hard down the lane only to be called for charging. While airborne, he plowed into Battier and landed awkwardly on his back. Odom writhed on the court in obvious pain and was done for the game. He will be re-evaluated back in Los Angeles after suffering lower back spasms. The Rockets closed out the quarter with an inbounds pass play from midcourt to a leaping Brooks for an alley oop bucket to push the Rockets to their largest lead of 29 points, 83-54. The Lakers made a modest 13-2 run to open the 4th quarter behind Gasol, (30 points, 9 rebounds), to trim the lead to 85-67 with 7:26 left to play, but Houston immediately ran off five consecutive points to retake control of the game. Sasah Vujacic, (7 points), and Shannon Brown, (14 points, 3 rebounds), connected on three, three pointers, and together with a pair of baskets by Gasol, trimmed the lead down to 92-79 with under three minutes to play. But the damage had already been done and the Rockets simply went to the line as the Lakers were forced to foul. Houston connected on 10-12 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory and send the Lakers heading back home with their tails tucked between their legs. Kobe, (15 points, 7-17 from the field, 5 assists, 4 steals), had only two points in the second half and for once, looked demoralized in his team’s poor showing. Ariza, (5 points, 3 turnovers), and Derek Fisher, (2 points, 2 rebounds), were out of sync and never got into the flow of the game. The Lakers shot 44.7% for the game and only 61.1% (11-18) from the line.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Laker flags were seen flying at half mast after today’s terrible performance. For a team with championship aspirations to play so poorly is difficult to imagine, but the Lakers have demonstrated this numerous times throughout the regular season and in the playoffs. They could have taken a commanding 3-1 series lead with the opportunity to close out the series with the Rockets on Tuesday, but instead the Rockets are guaranteed a return trip back home for Game 6. I can vividly remember the Memorial Day massacre in the Boston Garden in 1985, when the Lakers were humbled in Game 1 of the NBA Finals after posting the second best record in the league. Those same Lakers went on to defeat the Celtics in six games after coach Pat Riley publicly ripped their lack of effort and held each player accountable for their actions. This Mother’s Day felt much the same way with their lack of focus and lazy play. But the difference between those Lakers and the current squad is that they were made up of veterans who took the loss to heart and responded. Led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, that team regrouped and rededicated themselves overnight. I’m not sure that this edition can do so.
Kobe Bryant has been frustrated before to the point of demanding to be traded. With their dreadful showing today, I can’t say that I blame him. Sure, Kobe was largely ineffective today, but he was the only Laker to show up ready to do battle with the underdog Rockets from the start of the game. Lamar reverted back to jacking up jump shots, Gasol looked like a Memphis Grizzly cub, and Trevor Ariza was wobbly from the get-go. D-Fish, back after his one game suspension, should have stayed back in his hotel room for this one as well. Brooks continually ran circles around him and after his blistering start, not even Farmar or Brown had any chance of slowing him down. But I will forever be a Lakers optimist and simply point to the fact that the series is not over yet. 2-2 is better than 2-4, and until that time arrives, I will continue to support and pull for this squad regardless of the amount of pain they inflict upon me. Maybe an ass-whooping is what they needed in order to finally shake out of the complacency that has plagued them for so long. Perhaps being routed on national TV will snap them out of their sleep-walking habit. And perhaps it is time for Phil Jackson to put away the yoga mat and instead, publicly rip his team and hold each player accountable for their actions.