The Houston Rockets hosted the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, and although Kobe Bryant managed to do better than his 3-20 performance against the Jazz, he still missed plenty of shots and gave the Rockets room to make a comeback and steal a 107-104 home victory.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol dominated the paint, but Bynum got ejected in the second half and paved the way for Kobe to force the action a bit too much late in the game. Meanwhile, Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee sparked an 18-2 run that allowed the Rockets to play from the front and keep the lead in the clutch.
The Lakers could do no wrong in the first quarter, as they shot 68 percent as a team, dished out 10 assists and only committed one turnover. Bryant snapped off nine quick points and two pretty assists to quickly erase the memory of his abysmal 3-20 shooting performance against the Jazz. Perhaps more importantly, Kobe deferred more to Gasol and Bynum, who dominated the paint and combined for 20 points on 10-14 accuracy. The Rockets couldn't quite keep pace with the Lakers' offense, got a bit sloppy trying to do so by committing six turnovers and fell behind 40-25 after one period.
Houston never led at any point in the first half, but their defense changed the complexion of the game after the first 12 minutes. Chandler Parsons (two steals, one block) switched onto Kobe and bothered the Mamba with his height, which allowed Courtney Lee (two steals) and Goran Dragic (two steals) to freelance and disrupt Bynum and Gasol in the high post.
The Lakers offense stalled in the second quarter as Kobe clanked his way to a 2-8 stretch, and Houston clawed their way back to take their first lead on a Courtney Lee dunk with 6:27 left in the third period. Luis Scola particularly caused problems for the Lakers bigs with his proficient pick-and-pop game, as the Argentinean claimed 19 of his 23 points in first 36 minutes and shot 9-13 on the night.
Things really started to swing in the Rockets' favor when Andrew Bynum (16 points, seven rebounds) got himself ejected with 1:10 left in the third quarter. His frustration boiled over with gambling Rockets guards pestering him on offense -- he committed four turnovers and failed to earn an assist on the night -- and his absence made life easier on Houston down the stretch.
Prior to the ejection, Dragic dropped down to bother Bynum's drive from the right elbow and forced the big man into an unsightly traveling violation. Replays showed that Dragic may have grabbed some hand in his swipe, but the potential foul escaped the referee's eye. Bynum got tagged with a foul on the ensuing possession and then jawed at the ref until he picked up his second technical, disappearing down the tunnel into the visitor's locker room. As if to complete the picture, Bynum declined to talk with reporters after the game as well.
Houston suffered through a six-minute stretch without a field goal at the end of the third and watched its brief two-point lead turn back into an eight-point deficit, but Dragic (10 points, two assists in fourth quarter) and Lee (eight points, four rebounds and three assists in the final period) stepped up to save the day. LA led 95-83 with 6:40 left, but the Rockets engineered an 18-2 run that proved to be decisive.
Kobe didn't exactly ooze clutch ability in this one - 10-27 shooting and 5-14 in the second half -- but he used enough possessions to reinforce popular notions. In true "Kobe System" style, Bryant exhausted eight of LA's final 10 plays. In the final four minutes, he missed four shots and coughed up one turnover, but he ironically back-loaded three of his makes for the final 90 seconds and "kept it close."
Dragic shut the door with a huge corner three off drive-and-kick creation by Lee with 28 seconds left, and Lee bolted it down by with solid FT shooting to clinch the win. Kobe beat Parsons' defense on a few jumpers near the end for the highlight packages, but Courtney Lee matched him every step of the way by scoring the last four points and creating the Dragic three before that flurry.
Speaking of Dragic, he pulled off a sneaky good performance that bordered on quiet dominance. Aside from his pesky defense, Dragic added 16 points, 13 assists and 7 rebounds. Marcus Camby put in four points and grabbed four rebounds, but he spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench.
For LA, Ramon Sessions scored 14 points and dished out four assists in the loss.
The Lakers are now 28-18 and hold the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff bracket, while the Rockets improved to 25-22, which is good for the No. 8 seed.
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