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Push comes to shove, and the Lakers handle it

After getting manhandled in Game 1 by Houston, the Lakers grab, shake, bend and own Game 2, and carry the momentum to Houston.

May 07, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

That giant smack you heard Wednesday from the corner of 11th and Figueroa?

The Lakers, punching back.

That giant thud you will hear today from here to Houston?

The Rockets, falling hard.

That giant moment facing a team with giant aspirations?

The Lakers grabbed it, shook it, bent it, owned it, and will now carry it with them to Houston after a 111-98 victory over the Rockets to even their NBA Western Conference semifinal series at one game apiece.

Facing almost certain stunning elimination with a second consecutive home loss here, the Lakers recovered from their Game 1 manhandling by the Rockets with an opposite resolution.

This time, man, did the Lakers handle them.

Kobe Bryant scored crazily, screamed wildly, hit the Rockets so high and hard that he eventually cracked the nutty Ron Artest.

Bryant scored 40, the ejected Artest scored 25.

Derek Fisher drove mightily, lunged willfully, leveled the Rockets' Luis Scola with an elbow that may become the single dumbest play in Fisher's career here, but nonetheless inspired his teammates.

Fisher scored a dozen, Scola scored a dozen.

Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom pushed and prodded all night on Yao Ming, turning the giant star into a stiff.

Gasol and Odom combined for 29 points and 25 rebounds, while Yao had 12 points and 10 rebounds and five fouls.

Before the game, the Lakers claimed they weren't going to get into a shoving match with the physical Rockets, as if it was beneath them.

Turns out, they were just joshing, and now it is the Rockets who are beneath them, heading back to Houston knowing that the Lakers cannot only take a punch, but deliver one.

The teams sparred for most of three quarters, with the Lakers taking a big lead, blowing it, then regaining it behind Bryant's fire until the flames became contagious.

In the final minute of the third quarter, the expected fists and fury began flying.

It began when Odom scored on a layup from a perfect pass from Luke Walton, giving the Lakers a 12-point lead with 48 seconds left in the quarter.

One Rockets miss later, Odom was grabbed and shoved by Scola on another layup attempt. Odom ended the play by yakking at Scola, who yakked back, then Walton joined in the conversation, jumping in Scola's face with more trash talk.

Yes, this time, it was the Lakers who made the first move, offered the first challenge, stuck out the first chin and, well yes, threw the first punch.

With 13.2 seconds left in the third quarter, Fisher threw his elbow into Scola, knocking him down in what was properly called a flagrant "two" foul.

Just for good measure, Stu Jackson, the league's discipline boss, was in the stands.

Fisher was ejected from the game, and nobody should complain if he is suspended for Game 3.

The play was not only needlessly violent, but really dumb, very unlike Fisher.

But very much like the attitude that the Lakers need to adopt to survive this series.

"It took a lot of air out of the game," said Coach Phil Jackson of the end of the third quarter. ''But it did set the tone for the game, and for what is to come."

The tone continued early in the fourth quarter, when Artest was so frustrated after taking a Bryant elbow to the throat he chased Bryant down the court and jumped into his face and began talking trash before being pulled away by the officials.

Artest was thrown out of the game, which, unlike the Fisher play, worked for the Lakers.

This is what happens when you get tough. This is what happens when you impose your will.

For the Lakers, it started in the first quarter, Bryant scoring 10 of their first 18 points, throwing in shots from Staples to San Pedro, twisting and shouting.

"They can't stop me!"

Again and again, the Lakers hung on to his jersey, and their season, for dear life.

"They can't stop me!!"

It was as if his teammates didn't realize it, the finicky fans didn't understand it, and the moment required it.

Bryant understands these moments, even if others don't.

He was shunned by his own people two days ago, with most Staples fans refusing to chant MVP when he came to the foul line, as if his earlier loss to LeBron James made such chanting uncool.

On Wednesday, they were chanting again.

How good was that first quarter? The Lakers hit 13 of their first 15 shots. When they weren't hitting from 20 feet, they were hitting from zero feet, with driving drunks by Trevor Ariza and Gasol. Even when they missed, they hit, with Gasol awkwardly rattling an ally-oop pass into the basket.

The Lakers' defense shoved the Rockets from tip-off to final smack, with more than three times as many rebounds and at least twice as many pushes.

Then the second quarter began with the second team in, and everything changed.

No, Andrew Bynum still isn't ready for this intensity, as he grabbed one rebound and missed one shot in the quarter.

And, no, Jordan Farmar can't still find his groove. And, no, Walton still looks lost.

The second team made two of nine shots in the quarter, grabbed exactly two rebounds, and gave the Rockets the momentum to pull back within single digits.

The run continued against the starters, who only saved a tie with Bryant's halftime buzzer-beater. He was just getting started. So were his teammates.

Up off the canvas. Back in the series.


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