Oh, what a night—for physical playoff basketball!
The trash-talking, in-game and post-game tough-guy innuendos, and faux "sabre rattling" were also outstanding.
Of course, we all know that, with few exceptions, NBA players can't fight worth a lick. So all of the "You want some of this?" and "Kobe, you hit ME with an elbow? Don't you know I'm Ron Attest?" jabbering was actually pretty funny.
Speaking of funny (off on a tangent here), I found the Magic's Rafer Alston punk-slapping of the Celtic's Eddie House in the back of his head to be downright hilarious. It was the kind of move you put on your little brother as he passes by.
It wasn't hard enough to hurt House, but it rotated House's headband about 90 degrees. It was interesting, though, that the refs, Celtics, Celtics fans, and the media focused on that punk-slap, but somehow missed the elbow that House had sneaked into Alston's ribs seconds prior.
Back to Lakers-Rockets:
The Lakers deservedly have the rep as a finesse team. In Game One, the Rockets stifled that finesse with tough physicality.
But in Game Two, the Lakers matched—nay, exceeded the Rockets' rough play. Most of it was good clean bumping and thumping by both teams. However, no question that both teams, at times, employed some "Dennis Rodman" tactics.
The Rockets' Luis Scola "face-raked" Lamar Odom during a drive by Odom to the basket. Then Scola tried to sneak-pull Odom down by pulling Odom's jersey as their momentum carried both towards the baseline.
That led to technical fouls on The Lakers' Walton and Vujacic, who felt compelled to confront Scola—despite that Odom had walked away after briefly jabbering with Scola. Scola also got a technical for returning the "mouth fire" and getting nose-to-nose with Walton and Vujacic.
Again, I found humor in that sequence as the odds on Vujacic, Walton, or Scola being able (or even willing) to hit anyone with a punch are somewhere between getting hit by lightning and winning the lottery.
Kobe and Artest were popping each other virtually every time they were matched up. The big blow-up between those two came when they were jockeying for a rebound in the fourth quarter.
It was clear both live and on replays that Kobe put a strong reverse elbow into Artest's upper chest. Artest swore that Kobe hit him in his throat. Replays show that Kobe's elbow hit Artest just above the "R" on Artest's Rockets jersey.
What most observers missed, though, was the just-prior forearm and hand-push to the back of Kobe's noggin delivered by Artest.
Artest, mysteriously, was called for a foul for pushing Kobe. However, neither Kobe or his elbow were whistled. Artest then went...well..."Artest" and ran over to Kobe for a "discussion." Kobe jabbered back a bit as Artest bumped him and then Kobe raised his hands as he stepped away.
Subsequently, during the ref's (Joey Crawford) blocking of Artest from Kobe, Artest said or did something that caused Crawford to both "T-up" and eject Artest. Even Kobe said after the game that Artest should not have been ejected, as he really didn't do much of anything but yap.
The most physical and blatantly egregious play of the night occurred prior to the Kobe-Artest sequence and just subsequent to the Walton/Odom/Vujacic-Scola sequence. Lakers guard Derek Fisher put an open-court slobber-knocker of a shoulder-forearm hit on Scola as Scola was approaching to set a pick.
It was a hit that would make Ray Lewis proud. The bigger Scola went down almost as fast and hard as did Hatton when Pacquiao hit him with that left cross the other night. It was obvious that "Fish" was retaliating for Scola's stunt on Odom.
Fish was charged with a Flagrant Two and an automatic ejection. I expect the League to suspend him, although his hit was no more malicious that the Celtics' Rajon Rondo "facial-cold-cocking" of one Bulls' player and throwing another into the scorer's table—and Rondo was not suspended either time.
However, Fish's shot was clearly pre-meditated, evidenced by his looking back to see exactly when and where Scola was approaching, sizing him up and...WHAMMO!
This is going to be a great series. I hope the refs allow the two teams to find the proper balance between good, clean, hard-nosed physical playoff basketball and the potentially dangerous stuff.
I also hope that the refs don't again stifle the trash talking (Kobe was "T'd-up" for verbal gloating after making a tough, well-defended shot). I mean, if Kobe can't continue to tell Shane Battier and Ron Artest, "You can't guard me, mother-blankity-blank", then what fun can a player have?
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