NBA Playoffs: Rockets 99, Lakers 87
By Chris Duncan
HOUSTON ó With Yao Ming out, the Houston Rockets had no chance to beat the Los Angeles Lakers. Right?
Aaron Brooks scored a career-high 34, Shane Battier sank five 3-pointers and added 23 and the Rockets beat the Lakers 99-87 on Sunday to even their Western Conference semifinal at two games apiece.
“I think everyone but us got the memo that we weren’t supposed to show up today without Yao,” Battier said.
Luis Scola had 11 points and 14 rebounds as the Rockets got exactly the team effort they needed after Yao broke his left foot in the Lakers’ win in Game 3.
Game 5 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles, and anyone who thought the Rockets were finished without their best player only needed to watch the first quarter on Sunday, when Houston built a 29-16 lead.
The Rockets never trailed and led by as many as 29 before the Lakers made the score respectable toward the end.
“I’m not surprised,” said Battier. “It almost sounds cliche, but we’re a resilent group. We talk about bouncing back. Through adversity, through lineup changes, through trades, through injuries, we’ve never quit and we’ve never stopped believing.”
Brooks, in his second NBA season, became Houston’s starting point guard when the team dealt Rafer Alston to Orlando at the trade deadline.
He faced countless questions about his inexperience before the postseason began, but keeps showing skeptics that he can handle the job. He scored 27 points in Houston’s Game 1 win in Portland and had 14 points in the second half of the Rockets’ 100-92 victory in the opener of this series.
Brooks deflected credit to his teammates after this one.
“I’m lucky to have these guys,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier on me.”
Pau Gasol scored 30 points and Kobe Bryant had a quiet 15 for Los Angeles.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson warned his team about taking the Rockets too lightly after hearing about Yao’s injury. But the Lakers looked lethargic from the start, giving away careless turnovers and playing lax defense.
“They didn’t anticipate the energy that they were going to come with,” Jackson said. “But you say as much as you can as a coach and then the players have to execute and do it on the floor.”
The Rockets opened the game with a 22-7 run, starting 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Bryant scored the Lakers’ first three baskets, but the rest of the team missed its first seven shots.
Houston led 54-36 at the break. The Lakers grabbed only two offensive rebounds and generated only four fast-break points in their lowest-scoring half of the season. Battier had 15 points at halftime, two more than Bryant.
“I just don’t think we started the game with the right energy or the right focus or sense of urgency,” Bryant said.
Los Angeles didn’t start the second half too well, either.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 29-18 in the decisive third quarter, led by Brooks’ 17 points. The speedy, 6-foot guard finished the quarter by catching a midcourt pass by Ron Artest and putting in a layup just before the buzzer.
Yao, dressed in a dark suit, wore a broad grin and applauded when Brooks sprinted off the floor after the improbable basket.
The 7-foot-6 Yao is out for the rest of the playoffs, but the Rockets never doubted they could beat the Lakers without him.
“This was the effort we expected,” said Battier. “I don’t know about the result, but it was the effort that we expected. There was a different look to our team today.”
Lamar Odom, who scored 16 points in Game 3, drove into Battier and was called for a charge midway through the quarter. He hit the floor hard, limped to the bench and went to the locker room with back spasms. He did not return.
Odom will have tests today and said he’ll sit out practice.
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