The Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets each headed into their Wednesday matchup knowing a playoff spot was theirs. The all-important seedings and matchups, however, were still on the line.
The Lakers pulled away at the end with a 99-95 victory in overtime, and they'll face the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets, meanwhile, end the season in eighth place in the West and will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in their opening-round matchup.
James Harden's first-quarter numbers were awesome—13 points (on only five shot attempts) and five rebounds. The Lakers had difficulty handling Houston's fast-paced attack in the first quarter, leading to several open looks at the rim for the likes of Chandler Parsons and Harden.
On the other end of the floor, the Rockets did a great job forcing the ball out of Dwight Howard's hands in the post, as the Lakers center finished with four turnovers on the evening. They began the game doubling down on him, but it allowed far too many wide open three-point attempts. The Lakers had 14 attempts in the first quarter and also grabbed eight offensive rebounds.
Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley each had success in transition in the second quarter, and the Rockets pushed their lead as high as nine with eight minutes remaining in the first half.
Pau Gasol began the game 1-of-6 from the field, and he struggled to cope with Houston's stout frontcourt of Greg Smith and Omer Asik. The Lakers grabbed only two offensive rebounds in the second quarter and Harden finished the first half with 18 points and seven rebounds.
Howard only had four points on 2-of-9 shooting in the first half and failed to get to the free-throw line in 21 minutes, but he managed to grab nine rebounds. Steve Blake led the Lakers in scoring with 15 points and the team trailed by six heading into the third quarter.
The Rockets continued to push the ball up court in the third quarter, but the Lakers managed to stay within striking distance with their three-point shooting, heading into the fourth quarter trailing by four.
Chandler Parsons showed off his ball-handling abilities in the period, operating pick-and-rolls and finding Asik on several dump-offs at the rim. But Blake kept his team in it, knocking down a huge three-pointer that gave the Lakers an 81-79 lead midway through the quarter.
The end of the game was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams struggling down the stretch to get any good shots. But with just a few seconds left in the game and the Rockets trailing by three, Chandler Parsons knocked down a straightaway 30-footer to send it into overtime.
Pau Gasol reasserted his influence in the final five minutes, putting the finishing touches on a 17-point, 20-rebound, 11-assist triple-double and Los Angeles outscored Houston 9-5 in extra time for the victory.
Lakers.com reporter Mike Trudell tweeted on Pau Gasol's turnaround from a slow start:
Mike Trudell @LakersReporter
After starting 1 for 5, @paugasol has gone 4 of 7 for 11 pts, with 11 rebs, 6 asts and 1 blk.; Howard has 9, 12, 2 and 3.4/18/2013, 4:34:41 AM
Los Angeles Daily News reporter Mike Medina noted a milestone Dwight Howard passed.
Mark Medina @MarkG_Medina
Dwight Howard just became the youngest player in NBA history to get 9,000 rebounds. Dwight (27 yrs, 130 days), Wilt (27 years, 144 days)4/18/2013, 2:48:11 AM
All the drama came down to the final game of the regular season for the Los Angeles Lakers, and they responded with a big win.