The final stats didn't tell the whole story. They never do with the Rockets, a team that has shined since losing its leading scorer (
As Rockets coach
"The only thing that was consistent in those games was in the fourth quarter they hurt us," Adelman said. "In the fourth quarter,
It was a point of emphasis for Adelman before the game, who reminded his players that they were in position to beat the Lakers in all four games, leading in two and being within two possessions in the others, before being outscored 127-80 in the final period.
With that in mind, the Rockets knew they couldn't have picked a better time to play the Lakers. Not only was Los Angeles coming off a one-week layoff after beating Utah, but it was winning games by compiling big leads and fading at the end. Adelman told his Rockets that if they could "stay within shouting distance" of the Lakers, things would be different this time around. This Lakers team wasn't closing out games like it had during the season.
He was right. The Rockets not only lead for most of the game but finally outscored the Lakers 30-25 in the fourth quarter, never trailing late in the game.
The game plan for the Rockets was simple. Even Battier, who shadowed Bryant for most of the game, used one of Lakers coach
The Rockets wanted to force the Lakers into taking tough shots from the perimeter by playing aggressive defense. They wanted the Lakers to earn their points and not compile 20-plus points from the free throw line -- like they did against Utah. They also wanted to put Bryant (32 points, 31 field goal attempts) in a situation where he felt the need to do too much, and thus, try to take over the game.
As the game progressed, it was becoming clear that the Lakers were stuck in the Rockets' trap and would never be able to break away.
"We understood that [Bryant] wasn't going to be making any more plays for the guys around him," Rockets guard
At that moment, Barry turned around and saw Battier, who had just gotten out of the shower and was changing in the locker next to him.
"See, he's all over the place," he said. 'He's even right behind me, as I speak."
Last year around this time, the Lakers were gathered together in a Los Angeles hotel as Kobe won his first MVP. This year, the honor went to
"We let some games slip away, and I think if we would have had the best record I think we would have given Kobe a better opportunity to win it," Odom said. "Every year I've been in the league, he's had an MVP year; but I think everyone just expects that from him."
Odom noted the voting media usually has their favorites and that it's not always the best player who wins the award.
"No offense to you guys, but you might have a different reason for voting for a guy," he said. "One guy might be great in an interview and the other one is not, [so] you're going to vote for the one who's a great interview."
Before the game, Phil Jackson stressed the importance of winning series openers. He should know. When a Jackson-coached teams win Game 1, they are 42-0. When they don't? Well, they are 6-8. The Lakers will try to make that 7-8 now after losing home-court advantage and dropping their first home game of the postseason. Surprisingly, Jackson and some Lakers actually took some solace in the fact that they nearly won a game they had no business being in at times, and promised things would be different in Game 2.
"That wasn't a surprise to us, not to me at least," Jackson said. "The outcome of that game is not as bad as it seems. We're OK. We feel confident we'll come back and give a good effort on Wednesday night."