Houston Blasts Off

I checked the twitter status again. NBA now streams the league’s latest scores through twitter. It’s a whole new world, folks. But that’s not the source of my disbelief. I check the stream again.

I rub my eyes like a sleepy toddler in a later showing of Monsters versus Aliens.
Wow. This is really happening.  
Although I couldn’t watch the game live (due to work commitments), I could envision the Lakers shaking their heads. I could imagine Houston’s Ron Artest back-stepping down the court, nodding his head and smirking.
When I watched the game in replay, the apparitions were confirmed. Disgusting.

Sticking with the movie references, Monday’s Game One of the NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals looked like the Empire Strikes Back. The Jedi Knight was Houston Coach Rick Adelman, the Sith, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. Maybe that was a stretch. After all, Jackson doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. But hopefully you understand what I’m getting at here. Adelman, even if for one evening, was getting a taste of revenge against an all too familiar foe.

This wasn’t the only rivalry in Monday’s game. Fans can expect the enmity between Houston’s Ron Artest and Los Angeles’s Kobe Bryant to fire off as the series moves forward. The Rockets were swept by the Lakers in the regular season series, but were without Artest in one game and forward Shane Battier in another. Kobe averaged 28.3 points-per-game (on 53 percent shooting) and five assists per game against the Rockets in those four games.

Apparently Kobe’s ability does not impress Artest.  In the teams’ March 11 matchup, Artest and Kobe engaged in a conference surrounding Artest’s apparent dominance. In that game, Kobe finished with 37 points, 18 of which came in the final 4:13 of the 4th quarter (shortly after the conversation). In the next game, Artest, who had apparently taken things personally, held Kobe to 20 points.

In some respects, Artest was outperformed on Monday night. Artest had 21 points. Kobe finished with 32. Artest had three rebounds and one steal. Kobe had eight boards and two steals. However, Artest led the game in grittiness. (Although, Battier did take an elbow from the Lakers’ Sasha Vujacic and ended the game with six points, three boards and four stitches.) And if Artest’s new mo-hawk didn’t convince you of his hard-nosed style, perhaps his cut past Trevor Ariza and dunk over Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom did.

More importantly, Artest finished with seven assists, a demonstration of the Rockets’ balanced play. The young Aaron Brooks had 19 points after making seven of his 14 shots. Luis Scola had ten points, but also eight boards. The team had five more turnovers than the their opponent, but shot 47.9 percent compared to the Lakes’ 44.3. Finally, the Rockets hit five of their 18-trey attempts. Not the greatest showing, but much better than the Lakers’ 2-for-18.

Time and time again number 24 has pushed his team to victory. The force is strong in this one. Monday night the force waned and this MVP runner-up could have used a little more help from his supporting cast. The next highest scorer was Pau Gasol with 14, followed by two others with 10. Kobe and crew were both outmuscled and outplayed and judging by his postgame press conference, Kobe knew all about it.

We Live and We Learn

Although the Rockets did a good job of spreading the ball around, Artest’s apparent go-to-guy for the evening was Yao Ming. Yao finished with 28 points, ten boards and two blocked shots. He went 9-of-17 and 10-of-10 from the charity stripe. Of course, Yao did not seem to want any charity.

After the game, Yao explained that he had recently learned the term, “underdog.” He hopes to make little use of it. Yao does not consider his team to be an underdog in any respect and expects the Lakers, and everyone watching will soon follow suit.  
Whoa, Yao. There is plenty of basketball to be played.


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