The Houston Rockets were able to upset the Los Angeles Lakers last night and claim a 1-0 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals. Houston seemed to control the entire game from start to finish, but there is still no reason for the Lakers to panic.
The Lakers were very sluggish to start the first half of Game 1, finishing the half with no players in double figures.
"I didn't like the start of the game at all," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after the game.
The true story of the night was how effective the Rockets' defense was against the Lakers' offense.
Rockets' "D" vs. Lakers' "O"
Kobe Bryant had the right idea early on, trying to get his shot going early and get in a rhythm. The Rockets' defense assumed he would look to attack from the beginning and did a nice job of containing him on the offensive end. While Bryant did finish the game with 32 points, he also had to take 31 shot attempts (14 of which he made) in order to do so.
Rockets' defensive specialist Shane Battier (below) had the responsibility of guarding Bryant for the majority of the game. When defended by Battier, Bryant shot just 8-22 from the field resulting in 17 points.
The Rockets' defense helped keep Bryant in check throughout the game.
"One thing about Shane I really appreciate is that...he has a really good understanding that he's not going to shut Kobe down," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "He's going to send him to the right spot where he knows he's going to have help, and that's crucial."
Keeping Bryant out of rhythm was the main goal for Houston going into the series and it seemed to work in Game 1.
"We were trying to keep him from getting to the rim," Adelman said. "That was our goal: make him make jump shots and not let him get to the rim."
Ron Artest spent a majority of his time on Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom but also took some time to cover Bryant as well. When guarded by Artest, Bryant went 3-5 from the field, resulting in six points. Artest was happy about the win but knows they have to continue their high level of defensive play going into Game 2.
"I think [Bryant] was real close from having 40 to 50 points," Artest said. "A couple of his shots were in and out. So we're not going to be fooled and get blown out in Game 2."
The Lakers' New Strategy
In the season series between the Lakers and Rockets, all four games came down to the fourth quarter, in which the Lakers took over. However, in Game 1, the Rockets outscored the Lakers 30-25 in the fourth quarter. Bryant, who has been known to take over in late-game situations, shot only 4-10 from the field to along with 3-4 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers led the Rockets in almost every statistical category except free throw attempts, defensive rebounds, and three-point field goals. Free throws proved to be the most important down the stretch as the Rockets went 15-16 from the line, with Yao Ming going 8-8, as the Lakers only shot 5-8.
The Lakers are going to need Bynum to stay on the floor and be a factor if they hope to switch the momentum in their favor. Bynum picked up two quick fouls in the first two minutes of the first quarter, forcing him to lose some playing time and finish with 10 points in just 15 minutes.
Odom is also going to need to contribute after having just nine points in 31 minutes in Game 1. Odom has once again proven to be one of the Lakers' most inconsistent players in the postseason after coming off a 26 point, 15 rebound performance in Game 5 against the Utah Jazz in the first round. Probably the Lakers best all-around threat, Odom will need to play at his best throughout the series and use his athleticism and height as an advantage against Houston's frontcourt.
How the Lakers react in Game 2 will be a good indicator of how the rest of this series might play out, as the ultimate battle of great offense versus great defense continues.