While clouds dumped a torrential downpour outside the Forum on Monday, Vernon Maxwell and the Houston Rockets rained three-pointers on the Lakers inside.
Maxwell, who has led the NBA in three-pointers the last two seasons, sank six of seven during the first half Monday, tying the record he set last March 1 for most three-pointers in a half by a Laker opponent. Overall, the Rockets made 11 three-pointers, also a record for a Laker opponent and the key to Houston's 110-90 rout before 15,489.
"The whole year, teams haven't been leaving me alone outside the three-point arc," said Maxwell, who had made only 36 of 136 three-point shots before Monday. "Today was a blessing. And they kept falling.
"I don't understand that lineup, but that's what they're doing. I was very shocked they left me open as much as they did."
Maxwell missed his only three-point try during the second half and finished with 24 points.
"After my first three, I thought they weren't going to leave me any more, but they kept doing it," he said. "It kills you, when a team is consistently, consistently hitting threes on you. It's something we haven't been doing."
What the Rockets have been doing lately is emphasizing defense, which helped them beat the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks and the Midwest-leading Utah Jazz in a winning streak that stands at five. The Rockets held the Lakers to 36 points in the first half, a season low, and their three-point offense kicked in again late in the third quarter, after the Lakers had cut a 51-36 Houston halftime lead to 67-64.
Eight points during the third by James Worthy keyed the Lakers in a 20-10 surge that brought them within five points with about five minutes left in the quarter, and a free throw by Elden Campbell after a loose-ball foul against Winston Garland tightened Houston's lead to 67-64 with 1:18 to go. But on the Rockets' next possession, Scott Brooks, formerly of UC Irvine, made a three-pointer off a pass from Hakeem Olajuwon with 1:02 to go, padding Houston's lead to six.
The Lakers got no closer than eight after that, ultimately absorbing their second-biggest defeat this season. Their record fell to 19-16, identical to Houston's.
"We made a good effort to come back in the third quarter, but the three by Brooks, that really broke us again," Laker Coach Randy Pfund said. "That definitely hurt us. Tonight, threes were the story."
And although Maxwell's three-spree was flashier, the three-pointer by Brooks, a 5-foot-11 guard in his fifth season, scored points for timeliness with Rocket Coach Rudy Tomjanovich.
"He's our spark plug," Tomjanovich said. "He's a gutsy guy. He's the guy you put in to break the defense down and get somebody else the shot. You like to have somebody on your team that makes his teammates look better.
"He usually takes the you-swing-the-ball-to-him, open kind of shots. On that (three-pointer), he could have waited, but he took it, and that showed a lot of confidence."
It showed the Lakers that their strategy of double-teaming Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe and conceding outside shots wasn't going to work. Olajuwon scored 21 points, slightly off the 25.2 average he carried into the game, but Maxwell finished with almost double his season average of 12.9. Matt Bullard made three three-pointers and had 15 points, Brooks had 14 and Garland 11.
"I made a big emphasis tonight on the board game, and we were up by two (rebounds) at the half, but that's how it is in this business," Pfund said. "When you make a special effort on one thing, something else comes back to hurt you. I don't think there was a lot of breakdowns tonight. You've got to take something away and maybe you give something up."
Hope is one thing they haven't given up.
"We had a good game plan and we stuck to it," Worthy said. "But when you're giving up the shot you want to give up and guys keep knocking down threes, what can you do?
"I'm not saying we couldn't have done some things better. We want to execute better offensively. They've been known to shoot themselves into big leads and shoot themselves out, too, but everybody else got hot."
Vernon Maxwell fell three short of the NBA record for three-pointers in a game, set by Dale Ellis for Seattle against the Clippers on April 20, 1991, and matched by Michael Adams for Denver against the Clippers on April 12, 1991. Maxwell's high is eight three-pointers, at Denver April 5, 1991. . . . Maxwell is 24 for 53 in three-point attempts at the Forum.