The Los Angeles Lakers returned to the basketball court for the first time since their embarrassing loss to the Boston Celtics. The Lakers struggled in the final period, and many people blamed the bigs for their lack of influence on the game. In addition, General Manager Mitch Kupchak said he is willing to trade off some players in order to better the team. Although this was an early February match-up, the game had a very important meaning for the Lakers. A dominant win would restore the Lakers’ reputation, while a loss would force fans to push the panic button.
Although Andrew Bynum did not play for the Lakers due to a sore knee, the team was still able to bully the Rockets in the paint. The Lakers defense was impeccable for the first few minutes of the game, as the Rockets missed their first five shots. At the 6:50 mark of the first quarter, the Lakers opened up a 15-8 lead.
The Lakers continued to play tenacious defense, and they were forcing the Rockets to take tough contested jump shots. The Lakers continued to pound the ball inside the paint, and Kobe Bryant was solely focused on setting up his teammates. Although Kobe Bryant is known for his offensive arsenal, he recorded his 5,000th career assist at the 2:10 mark of the opening period.
At the end of the first quarter, the Lakers opened up an eight point lead, 31-23. Kobe Bryant did not score a single point in the opening period, but he dished out seven assists.
The Lakers’ bench was inserted into the game to start the second quarter, and their fresh legs allowed the team to get into the open court. The Lakers were deflecting the Rockets’ passes, and they were playing with great intensity on the defensive end of the court.
Kobe Bryant scored his second consecutive basket at the 7:22 mark of the second quarter and with that turn-around jumper he expanded the Lakers’ lead to ten 39-29. However, the Lakers had a dearth of energy in the closing minutes of the first half. The Lakers’ ten point lead had been cut down to four points, 49-45, with less than two minutes left in the quarter.
Just when it seemed as though the Lakers would pull away, the Rockets ended the half on an effective run. The Lakers headed into the locker-room up by only six points, 54-48. The Lakers shot 50% from the field and their leading scoring was Pau Gasol with 16, and the leading assists man was Kobe Bryant with seven.
The Lakers started the second half playing very poorly and they allowed the Rockets to get wide open shot attempts. The Lakers were not buckling down on defense and they were also failing to executive efficiently on offense. The Lakers’ double-digit lead quickly dwindled down and the Rockets took a three point lead at the 6:31 mark of the quarter, 64-61.
The Lakers were committing many unforced turnovers, and the Rockets were converting those turnovers into easy points. Momentum had completely shifted toward Houston, and the Lakers were becoming very frustrated. Kobe Bryant was hit was a technical foul, and it was clear that he was not pleased with they way the game was shaping up.
At the end of the third quarter, the Lakers and Rockets were tied at 74 and all signs pointed to a close game in the fourth.
The Lakers began the final period firing on all cylinders and their success was all due to their amazing defense. The Lakers were blocking shots, stealing the ball and they were getting easy fast-break buckets. After a pair of spectacular Shannon Brown plays the Lakers opened up a seven point lead, 85-78, with less than eight minutes left in the game.
The Rockets, however, hit two consecutive threes and they quickly tied up the score at 86. The final five minutes of the game were tight and they were played with great energy and tenacity.
The Lakers had a six point lead in the final two minutes, but the Rockets found a way to tie up the game. Although Kobe took over the scoring load for the Lakers, his isolation play hurt the team in the long run. The Lakers and Rockets were tied at 98-98, but the game was sent into overtime after Lamar Odom missed a potential game winning shot.
The Lakers played a much more balanced offense in overtime and Kobe Bryant did not force up ill-advised shots. Pau Gasol was the hero for the Lakers in the extra minutes, as he dominated the paint on both ends of the court.
As the final buzzer rang, the Lakers found themselves up 114-106. Kobe Bryant was the star for the Lakers as he had 32 points and 11 assists. Along with Kobe’s 32 points, Lamar Odom recorded a 20-20 with 20 points and 20 rebounds. The Lakers improved to a record of 34-15 and their next game will be vs. the best team in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs.