Yao Ming may have put up the best statistical game for the Rockets on Monday night (28 points, 10 boards, and a pair of blocks), but the engine that made the team go was that of G Ron Artest. Artest was considered a risky endeavor for Houston at the outset of the season, but not only has he kept his off-the-court antics in check, he is providing sparks on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court to replace the injured G Tracy McGrady. He went 8/15 from the field in Game 1, accounting for 21 points and seven assists in the process. Perhaps his greatest contribution was on the defensive end of the floor. Even though Kobe Bryant scored his points, he only shot 14/31 from the field in doing so. For the Rockets to win this series, it won’t be a matter of trying to stop Kobe, it’ll just be a matter of containing him.
Bryant still scored 32 points in spite of a marginal shooting performance, but the brunt of the Lakers’ demise in Game 1 can be attributed to the fact that he never got his teammates involved in the game. F Pau Gasol scored 14 points and brought in 13 boards, but it was his second lowest scoring game of the playoffs. For a team that averaged scoring 106.9 points per game this season, only managing 40 points in the first half was embarrassing and absolutely must improve if the boys from La La Land are going to be a serious threat for the NBA Title.
Why not Houston, and why not now? There may not be a team in the playoffs left standing that plays defense as well as the Rockets do. This series is starting to look a lot like the NBA Finals where the Pistons shocked the Lakers back in 2004. LA is just 1-4 ATS in its L/5 playoff games. The Rockets appear to have something going right now. Take any points you’re given as a bonus, as this series very well could be 2-0 by the end of the night.