Brooks Boosts Yao-less Rockets Past Lakers to Even Series

Nick PoustCorrespondent IIMay 10, 2009

HOUSTON - MAY 10:  Guard Aaron Brooks #0 of the Houston Rockets celebrates after making a three-point shot against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center on May 10, 2009 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks dove for a loose ball at mid-court, and wrestled it away from Los Angeles Lakers guard Trevor Ariza. He passed the ball to forward Ron Artest and recollected himself.

Artest drove on the right baseline, heavily guarded by two defenders. This meant one of his four teammates was open. Brooks was that player. Artest found the second-year guard out of the University of Oregon, who effortlessly nailed a three-pointer.

The clock wound under six seconds when Brooks left his feet to pass across the court. This was a mistake, one many by a player still trying to learn the game and gain experience is susceptible to making. Lakers guard Shannon Brown tipped the pass, but could not control it, dribbling the ball out of bounds.

Seven tenths of a second remained in the third period after Brown’s gaffe. Enough time was left for a catch-and-shoot. Artest was set to inbound the ball a mid-court, trying to find a teammate cutting to the basket. That teammate was Brooks, speeding straight to the hoop uncovered.

Artest tossed the ball 45 feet perfectly to Brooks. The guard, generously listed at six feet tall, leaped, caught the pass, and, in one swift motion, made the layup to beat the buzzer. It was his 27th and 28th points of the game and 16th and 17th of the quarter. The Rockets were rolling, and so was Brooks.

The news of Yao Ming’s season-ending foot injury lit a fire underneath Houston. Prior to his broken foot, the Rockets were underdogs, but were given even less of a chance to even the series once he came out of the tunnel dressed in a suit. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Feeding off the crowd, Houston stormed out of the gate. They out-hustled Los Angeles on offense, and played suffocating defense, capitalizing on their lack of intensity to score the first seven points.

This spurt was sparked by Shane Battier, who scored five of those points to energize the crowd and his team, instilling even more confidence that a win was a distinct possibility.

The run continued as the Lakers defense remained nonexistent. The Rockets hit multiple wide-open shots, especially Battier, who made Kobe Bryant pay for leaving him repeatedly by hitting two three-pointers in between a layup by Brooks that lengthened the lead to 17-4 halfway into the game.

Ron Artest, understanding his shooting was still porous, became the facilitator, finding Luis Scola in his sweet spot, 16-feet away from the basket and 10-feet away from his supposed defender, Pau Gasol. Scola drained his bread and butter. The score was 26-9. The rout was on.

The Lakers tried to climb back into contention but, even though 30-some odd minutes remained, it was too late. They weren’t going to get past the Rockets, not when the crowd is this delirious and the opposition so determined. Los Angeles was too paltry, lackluster, and disinterested. They had no chance.

This game was reasoning why the Lakers are not a championship contender. So much was on the line, but they were clueless to the importance. They could have taken a commanding lead back home with an opportunity to breeze into the Western Conference Finals.

Yet, even though the Rockets weren’t going to be stopped, the Lakers didn’t put up much resistance. As consequence, they have a fight on their hands, with everything to lose.

The Rockets never let up, as lead swelled to nineteen on a driving, uncontested dunk by small forward Carl Landry halfway through the second period. After a couple baskets by Bryant that cut the deficit to twelve, the crowd riled up their team.

Battier and Brooks responded; Battier hit another who’s-supposed-to-be-guarding-me? three-pointer, and Brooks once again proved too crafty for the Lakers, hitting a tough, fall-away mid-range jumper, then drove in for a easy layup to end a magnificently played first half.

Houston, without Ming and Dikembe Mutombo, decided to insert 6-foot, 6-inch power forward Chuck Hayes into their starting lineup as the center. This was a genius decision by head coach Rick Adelman.

What Hayes lacked in size he made up for in intensity and intelligence. He wasn’t going to give in, determined to hand out a beating instead of take one.

He took two shots, made one, so his offense was not that of Ming, but he gave Houston the intangibles; he grabbed nine rebounds, dished two assists, collected four steals, and blocked a shot. He was magnificent, a word that could easily be used to describe every Rocket that appeared.

Magnificent was an understatement when it came to Brooks. He was in the middle of every play, either by dishing assists, making three-pointers, or driving to the hoop against the Lakers cemented defense.

He played until the final buzzer, hitting two free-throws with twenty seconds left to cap an unbelievable performance. In all, Brooks had 34 points on 12-20 shooting, including four three-pointers.

It was the perfect time for the best game of his career. The Rockets have life, and as good a shot to win the series as the shell-shocked and embarrassingly bad Lakers. Perhaps even better, given the overpowering rout they handed out.

I don’t care that Los Angeles is going back home, and is still favored by all the pundits to win the series. Losses like this are tough to recover from, especially when they get run out of the building by a team whose tallest player was Artest.

The Rockets already learned how to win after star guard Tracy McGrady went down with an injury early in the season. Now, they no how to win without their giant of a center, and win in dominanting fashion.


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