Accused of lacking a killer instinct, the Los Angeles Lakers instead simply made the Houston Rockets extinct, blowing them out at Staples Center, 118-78. Coming off their poor showing in Game 4 in Houston, where they were thoroughly embarrassed, the Lakers stepped up their intensity level a few notches and didn’t provide the Rockets with even a glimmer of hope in this contest. The Lakers fell behind by six points midway through the first quarter, but from that point on, they gained control and never relinquished their momentum. Led by Kobe Bryant, (26 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot), the Lakers went on a 23-6 run to take a commanding lead after one period, 35-24. Andrew Bynum, (14 points, 6 rebounds), started in place of the heavily padded Lamar Odom, and had his first productive game of the playoffs. He was active early and along with Pau Gasol, (16 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocked shots), punished the smaller Rockets frontcourt.
Jordan Farmar, (12 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds), was again back to his old self and held Aaron Brooks, (14 points on 4-11, 2 assists, 2 turnovers), in check. Houston’s shooting woes were compounded by numerous, careless turnovers in the 2nd quarter. And the Lakers smelled blood and increased their defensive intensity as a result. They limited the Rockets to only 15 points in the period while continuing their offensive blitz. Gasol forced the undersized Chuck Hayes to the bench after he picked up his fourth foul. Shannon Brown, (7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals), complemented Farmar’s spirited play, while Trevor Ariza, (13 points, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 rebounds), contained the volatile Ron Artest, (9 points on 4-15, 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers). Lamar played tonight despite an extremely sore lower back and he appeared to be running gingerly to avoid contact. But his apprehensive gait still resulted in a typical LO performance line with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. The Lakers took a 64-39 lead heading into halftime that left the Rockets disheartened and shaking their heads in disbelief.
Any thoughts of letting up and losing another big lead quickly dissipated as the Lakers stormed out of their locker room, again limiting the Rockets to only 15 points in the 3rd quarter. The Lakers finished off the Rockets with a 16-3 run to end the period to extend their lead to 40 points. All that was left for the Lakers were free tacos and an appearance by DJ Mbenga. Kobe sat the entire 4th quarter as the Bench Mob mopped up what remained of the Rockets. And this time, the bench held onto the big lead and prevented the Rockets from gaining any type of psychological momentum going into Game 6 in Houston. Josh Powell, (10 points, 3 rebounds), and Luke Walton, (4 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), benefitted most from the extra playing time. Finally, with 5:41 left to play, Mbenga made his first appearance of the playoffs. His ferocious dunk off a Farmar assist pushed the lead to its largest at 42 points with just over a minute to play. With his bucket, every single Laker player contributed a basket to the final box scores. Seven Lakers scored in double figures. Houston was led in scoring by Brooks, Von Wafer, (13 points), and Luis Scola, (12 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists). The Lakers shot 51.2% for the game compared to Houston’s 32.6%. They connected on 6-13 (46.2%) from three point range and 28-36 (77.8%) from the free throw line.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
The Lakers mindset from the beginning of the game was to come out focused and play with energy. And for once, they didn’t waiver in their assignment or allow their opponent to creep back into the contest. Their passes were crisp and smart, the defensive switches were quick and forceful, and they won the battle determined by hustle plays. Less than 48 hours ago, critics were calling for the Lakers demise and a lack of heart. But between Sunday’s Mother’s Day massacre, and tonight’s bounceback rout, the Lakers may have finally turned the corner and learned their hard taught lesson. They still need to travel to Houston for Game 6 where they hope to close out the Rockets on Thursday. If tonight’s lopsided win hasn’t demoralized the Houston Rockets and their hopes for an upset series victory, nothing will ever do so. The way in which Houston has responded each time when their backs were up against the wall and the dirt had been thrown in their faces, Game 6 may prove to be the wildest game yet. “We’ve got to stay focused and understand that the effort we gave tonight is not going to be enough on Thursday. It’s just not,” Bryant said. “We’re not playing some chump team. I don’t care how many people they have out. This is a tough team, it’s a tough team full of competitors.” This was by far the best Lakers performance, and most satisfying of the season. And just as all of the bandwagon fans had abandoned ship on Sunday, they’ll all be back tomorrow, reclaiming their seats on the bumpy road to the NBA Finals.