Game Four in Houston was all Rockets, as they sped off to a 17-4 lead and never looked back to knot the series at two games apiece.
But tonight, in Game Five at the Staples Center, it was a game of runs for the Lakers in their 118-78 wipeout of the Rockets.
After the Rockets jumped out to a seven-point lead, the Lakers closed out the first quarter on a 23-6 run to take a 35-24 lead.
In the second quarter, the Lakers went on a 17-6 run and extended their lead to 64-39 at halftime on 19 fastbreak points. Kobe Bryant, who only had 15 points in all of Game Four, had 20 by halftime on 8-of-14 shooting.
In Game Four, the Lakers came out lethargic and uninspired. Tonight it was the Rockets who were out of rhythm.
On Sunday in Houston, it seemed like Aaron Brooks and Shane Battier, who combined for 57 points, could not miss from three-point range. That was not the case tonight.
Aaron Brooks went 0-for-3, Shane Battier 1-for-4, and the Rockets as a team were just 3-for-22 from beyond the arc after three quarters.
The Lakers lead at the end of three quarters was 40 points, 94-54.
The Lakers starters were finished at that point. Kobe Bryant put in 26 points. Pau Gasol had 16 points with 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. Andrew Bynum had his best game of the playoffs, with 14 points and six rebounds.
Coming off the bench with a serious back contusion, Lamar Odom had 10 points and six rebounds. It was good to see Odom gut it out.
Aaron Brooks, who had 34 points for the Rockets on Sunday, had his total reduced to just 14 points in this game. Luis Scola had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Brent Barry came against the Lakers bench and got eight fourth-quarter points, hitting two-of-four from beyond the arc to lift the Houston total to 5-for-29 from three-point range.
All eyes will be on the Toyota Center in Houston on Thursday to see which Lakers team shows up, the one that played there on Sunday, or the one that played tonight.
Pau Gasol has a tendancy to disappear at times, like he did for most of the first half last Sunday. He finally came back in the fourth quarter when it was too late.
Kobe Bryant decides he wants to let his teammates score and so he refuses to take a shot. Tonight he was the first player in double figures and had 20 points by halftime.
Phil Jackson sees his team is behind in the first few minutes by double figures, but he doesn’t call a timeout. Why? Because that’s not his style. He wants them to figure it out for themselves. Then why is Jerry Buss paying him to coach?
It isn’t important for the Lakers to win Game Six in Houston on Thursday to closeout the series. They can do that in Game Seven at the Staples Center. But it is important for the Lakers to win Game Six to show some consistency.
Not only the Lakers starters, but their bench—as well as their coach. Phil Jackson has to come up with a winning game-plan that his players can execute. Even more importantly, he has to instill his team with that closeout mentality and insist that they play at the highest intensity from the first tipoff to the final buzzer.
It is his responsibility. Not Kobe Bryant’s or Pau Gasol’s or Derek Fisher’s. But if he let’s them muddle through Game Six and let’s them keep thinking they can get away with this on-again, off-again mentality, then he needs to retire.
There is no reason the Lakers can’t play on Thursday, the way they played tonight—with energy, and above all, with heart. Phil Jackson needs to make sure that happens.
Speaking of energy and heart, just about 30 miles down the Interstate 5 freeway at the Honda Center, the Anaheim Ducks held off the Detroit Red Wings, 2-1, to force a Game Seven in Detroit. Congratulations to the Ducks!