After the L.A. Lakers lost to the Houston Rockets in Game One of the playoff series, Coach Phil Jackson thought that was as bad as his team could play. It was a loss on their home court and Phil Jackson was quoted as saying: “I don’t know if we can play much worse, to be honest with you“.
Phil Jackson might want to amend that assessment. Game Four, a 99-87 win for Houston, might be worse. The final numbers reflect kindly on the team from Los Angeles. At one point, the L.A. Lakers trailed by as many as twenty nine points.
Game Four was decided early. The Rockets opened with a stunning 22-7 start in the first quarter. From three point range, the Rockets started with a four for five opening statement. Meanwhile, the Lakers missed their first seven shots. It was an ideal script for the home town Rocket fans. The Lakers never recovered.
The score at the half time break was 54-36. The deficit was not insurmountable if the Lakers regrouped and had a focused third quarter. Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Rockets continued with a dominating 29-18 third quarter. The game was decided.
Aaron Brooks, the speedy Rockets guard, had a career high thirty four points. Seventeen of those points were scored in the third quarter. For much of the game, the Lakers’ Derek Fisher was chasing Aaron Brooks after the Rockets guard had moved by the Lakers defender. Containing opposing guards has been a defensive issue during the regular season. The problem becomes further exposed during the playoffs. There will be questions whether Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown may have better success in containing the Rockets’ guards. Will Phil Jackson temporarily replace his veteran guard?
The problems with the Lakers are not with just one individual or with one position. The lethargy is throughout the whole team. In the first game where Houston was without its all-star center, Yao Ming, the Lakers appeared unfocused and did not match the intensity of the Rockets. The Rockets had uncontested layups and uncontested jump shots. At times, the Lakers defense simply vanished.
The Game Four win for the Rockets guarantees that this playoff series will return for a Game Six in Houston. Game Five is in Los Angeles, with the series tied at two wins each. Now it becomes a race to two more wins to advance in post season play.