Well, well, well.
The Lakers finally checked into their playoff series with the Houston Rockets, carrying several intriguing elements with them, including the one of greatest importance -- an attitude.
When the final technical foul had been assessed, and all the ejections sorted out, the Lakers had beaten back the Rockets, 111-98, evening up their best-of-seven series at 1-1.
Kobe Bryant had 40 points, Pau Gasol added 22 and 14 rebounds, and the Lakers stood up to the Rockets on Wednesday at Staples Center, displaying a swagger and toughness that had been noticeably lacking in their first six playoff games.
Games 3 and 4 are Friday and Sunday in Houston.
It had been an unsettling 48 hours for the Lakers, who might or might not have seen media members debating on various TV shows whether it was "panic time" or "cause for concern" in this series.
And that was after only one game.
On one hand, the Lakers lost another large lead in Game 2, squandering a 15-point first-quarter lead to find themselves tied at halftime.
On the other hand, there was the presence of a drive, perhaps even an anger, that had eluded them in the playoffs.
Near the end of the third quarter, Lamar Odom was fouled by Luis Scola, said a few words to the Rockets forward and walked away. Luke Walton then jumped in and went face-to-face with Scola until their, uh, conversation was broken up by referees.
On the Rockets' next possession, Derek Fisher was ejected for throwing an elbow as Scola came to set a screen on him near the top of the key.
Fisher was called for a flagrant foul "two" and ejected from the game. The league will review the incident today and determine if Fisher will be suspended for Game 3.
The Lakers led at the time, 86-75, with 13.2 seconds left in the third quarter.
Fisher said he should not have been ejected and hoped he would not be suspended for Game 3. He also said that Houston's big men had been setting tougher-than-usual screens.
"He, Yao and [Carl] Landry . . . for some reason they get to tee off on the little guys up there when they're coming to set screens," Fisher said. "I knew he was coming. I was going to give a good, hard foul, with no intent to harm or injure anyone."
Houston wasn't without its share of conflict.
Reserve guard Von Wafer was kicked off the bench in the third quarter by Rockets Coach Rick Adelman and sent to the locker room for talking back to Adelman. Wafer, originally drafted by the Lakers in 2005, had seven points when he left the game.
Then, with 6:57 to play, Rockets forward Ron Artest was called for an over-the-back foul, complained to the referee and ran across the court to Bryant, getting in the face of the Lakers guard. Artest was angry that Bryant elbowed him while the two were jostling underneath the basket.
After the two were separated, Artest pointed at Bryant and then pointed at his own throat, indicating where the blow had landed.
Artest, like Fisher, was kicked out of the game. He had 25 points.
"It was a fun game to be a part of," Artest said. "I knew I was going to get a foul."
Less than a minute later, Bryant was called for a technical foul for talking to Rockets forward Shane Battier as the two moved down the court.
NBA disciplinarian Stu Jackson, who happened to be in attendance, will undoubtedly have a busy day today.
There were surprises long before the night began, Odom replacing Andrew Bynum in the starting lineup, a move made because of "the way the team's playing," Jackson said.
Pau Gasol moved to center to guard Houston's Yao Ming, and it looked like the right move right away.
Gasol led a fastbreak after a long rebound and bounced the ball to Trevor Ariza for a dunk, one of many highlights in a first quarter that ended with Bryant's 22-foot fadeaway providing a 39-25 lead.
Earlier Wednesday, Bryant was selected to his ninth All-Defensive team, and Fisher, Gasol and Ariza got votes as well.
Said Jackson: "I congratulated the guys that were named, four from our team, and told them, 'Let's play some defense.' "
It didn't happen in the second quarter as the Lakers lost a 15-point lead and earned a 57-57 tie only when Bryant made a three-pointer from the right corner with 4.5 seconds left until halftime.
Yao left after picking up his third foul near the midpoint of the second quarter . . . and Houston actually made a substantial run.
Using a small lineup that featured six-foot guards Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry, the Rockets turned a 48-39 deficit with 6:24 left in the quarter into a 57-53 lead.
But Bryant carried the Lakers in the second half, scoring 20 points as the Lakers outscored Houston, 54-41.