Previous Rockets coverage is here.
Friday night's Game 3 was a nightmare scenario on both ends of the floor for Clutch City. Kobe Bryant showed up as the Kobe Bryant being compared to Jordan. Eventually we'll talk about why the comparison is an exercise in foolish douchebaggery, but you have to acknowledge Kobe's greatness on nights he plays decent. ESPN, TNT, and Laker bandwaggoners will bludgeon you with black mamba idiocy until you do.
God bless Shane Battier because he didn't allow many easy looks for the Laker star, contesting all manner of perimeter jumpers and fadeaways, while doing an admirable job of keeping Bryant out of the paint. But Kobe was on from behind the arc going 4-6 and when he's hitting from deep, he's a tough cover.
I'd be remiss for not mentioning that 3 Laker players took nearly as many foul shots as Yao Ming but I'll stay out of that fray especially considering the tell tale stat that actually cost the Rockets the ballgame. Turnovers.
On the other end of the floor, the Rockets had no one to blame but themselves. While they tried to run offense through Yao and take advantage of Laker help, Houston ballhandlers played sloppy basketball leading to 17 turnovers on the night giving the Lakers 11 extra possessions net net. The starting 5 had 14 of those miscues, and when the smoke cleared, the team that took care of the basketball won and you could identify the losing team by their limping. Which take us to...
Game 4. Basketball is a game of matchups, and there was no better example of that than Sunday's must win for the Rockets. To prove my matchup point let's try a little experiment. Imagine Tracy McGrady, Deke Mutombo, and Yao Ming are all healthy and suiting up for the Rockets, playing at an expectation level similar to that of the current Lakers. Just forget for a moment that Houston is dogshit with McGrady in the lineup, we're talking hypotheticals. Now, match that Rocket team up with a Laker team missing Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum in a playoff environment and tell me if the Lakers can even win a game. Doubtful.
Why then were the Rockets able to pull a similar style upset yesterday? Matchups. You see, LA is absolute garbage defending penetration in general, and even more putrid defending the pick and roll. Laker guards allow easy penetration to ultra quick guards because the Laker backcourt consists of average quickness points like Fisher and Farmar, and a big shooting guard in Kobe Bryant who expends a ton of energy on the offensive end. Chris Paul destroys these cats. Now this advantage is somewhat mitigated against post-up centric teams like the Rockets, because guys like Bynum and Gasol can hang out in the lane and cut off penetration, spending most of the possession in the paint against a plodders like Yao Ming.
Take Yao out of the equation, and now you make Gasol and Bynum move their feet against pick and rolls and floating big men. The result is the Rockets run the Lakers right out of the gym. Brooks and Lowery are allowed to get wherever they want with basketball against slow guards and big men that are garbage showing on ball screens.
And when I say garbage, I'm saying there may not be a worse tandem than Bynum and Gasol when it comes to playing ball screens. I suspect you'll see more trapping from Phil Jackson in Game 5, because it gives his bigs a one way go, takes the ball out of Brooks' hands, and forces players, that are less athletic than Laker defenders, to finish.
If I'm the Rockets, I throw caution to the wind and try to exploit the Laker perimeter by going to the small lineup of Lowry, Brooks, Battier, Artest, and Scola for longer stretches of the game. This lineup forces Bryant to get involved defending the screen/roll, pulls weakside help away from the bucket because of the shooting ability of Artest and Battier, and gives you a pick and pop screening big man in Scola. The downside is finding a Laker that Lowry can guard. If Odom's dinged, it allows the Rockets to stick Lowry on Vucacic or Arize and beg the Lakers to run back to the basket offense through those two making them become playmakers while taking the ball out of Kobe's hands.
Jackson might counter by going big with Bynum and Gasol which would make for some fun matchups. Bynum guarding Artest, Vucocic/Arize on Lowry, Artest on Bynum or Gasol etc.
But hell, the Rockets are playing with house money, so the pressure's on the Lakers to adjust. Or the stripe shirts to adjust. Or Joey Crawford.