HOUSTON – The Houston Rockets not only beat the Los Angeles Lakers without Yao Ming, they made it look easy. Aaron Brooks scored a career-high 34, Shane Battier sank five 3-pointers and added 23 and the Houston Rockets routed the Los Angeles Lakers 99-87 on Sunday to even their Western Conference semifinal at two games apiece.
Luis Scola had 11 points and 14 rebounds as the Rockets got exactly the team effort they needed after Yao broke his left foot in the Lakers
' win in Game 3.
Game 5 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles, and anyone who thought the Rockets were finished without their best player only needed to watch the first few minutes on Sunday, when Houston built a 22-7 lead.
Pau Gasol scored 30 points and Kobe Bryant had a quiet 15 for Los Angeles.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson warned his team about taking the Rockets too lightly after hearing about Yao's injury. But the Lakers looked lethargic from the start, giving away careless turnovers and playing lax defense.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (C) is surrounded by Houston Rockets guard Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola (7), Carl Landry (14) and Ron Artest (R) during Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final basketball game in Houston, Texas, May 10, 2009. [Agencies]
The Rockets opened the game with a 22-7 run, starting 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Bryant scored the Lakers' first three baskets, but the rest of the team missed its first seven shots.
Houston led 54-36 at the break. The Lakers grabbed only two offensive rebounds and generated only four fast-break points in their lowest-scoring half of the season. Battier had 15 points at halftime, two more than Bryant.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 29-18 in the decisive third quarter, led by Brooks' 17 points. The speedy, 6-foot guard finished the quarter by catching a midcourt pass by Ron Artestand putting in a layup just before the buzzer.
Lamar Odom, who scored 16 points in Game 3, drove into Battier and was called for a charge midway through the quarter. He hit the floor hard, limped to the bench and went to the locker room with back spasms. He did not return.
And when Brooks completed the last-second alley-oop, Artest smacked his hands on the scorers' table and smiled to the roaring crowd, in seeming disbelief about the way things were going.
Artest scored only eight points, but had 10 rebounds and six assists.
Bryant returned from a long rest with 5:41 left in the game and the Lakers cut the deficit to 10. But it was too late by then and Brooks fittingly scored Houston's last two points on free throws in the final minute.