Lakers Get Tough, Even Series With Rockets

Last year's Lakers were said to have been too soft to be able to win a championship. After their 111-98 Game 2 victory at Staples center on Wednesday, no one will be able to say that now. The Lakers evened their series with Houston at a game apiece, but not before letting everyone know that they're not afraid to mix it up in order to get the job done.

With the Lakers already having lost the opening game of their series with the Rockets, they couldn't afford to come out flat in Game 2. So they didn't: Kobe Bryant started out hot and hit his first six shots, on his way to a 15-point first quarter which gave L.A. an early 14-point lead at 39-25.

The 39 first quarter points were just one less than the Lakers managed in the entire first half in Game 1, so you knew things were clicking as they had for L.A. during most of the season. But after the lead grew to 15 early in the second -- and as has been the unfortunate case for the Lakers all season -- the bench came in and gave all of it back.

Houston went on a 27-11 run in the second, and had a four-point lead of their own before a free throw from Lamar Odom and a three-pointer from Kobe bryant had the two teams tied at the half.

As if the basketball wasn't riveting enough at that point, things got heated to the point where technical fouls and ejections were plentiful in the game's second half.

Houston's Luis Scola had been jawing with Lamar Odom for a few possessions, so when he committed a hard foul on Odom late in the third and with the Lakers having gone back up by 12, Odom wasn't pleased. He and Scola had to be separated, and Luke Walton came over to add a few words of his own, so the end result was that three technical fouls were handed out: one to Scola, and one each to Odom and Walton.

On the very next possession, Derek Fisher ran a little too hard through a screen set by Scola, and extended his forearm in the process, which sent Scola crashing to the deck. Given the fact that this was on the possession right after Scola had words with two of Fisher's teammates, the officials saw it as a retaliation, so they gave Fisher a flagrant two foul, which comes with a side order of an automatic ejection.

If Fisher's hit on Scola was the undercard, then Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest in the fourth quarter was the main event.

With the Lakers leading by 10 and under seven minutes remaining, Bryant and Artest were fighting for rebound position underneath the basket. It started with Artest behind Kobe, and with his hand and then his arm in the back of Kobe's neck. When the two kept at it, Bryant threw an elbow without looking behind him, in a move that likely was meant to let Artest know to back off. The elbow caught Artest in the throat, and no foul was called.

When Kobe headed back down the court, Artest first ran to the official to plead his case for a foul on Bryant for the elbow that landed in his throat. When the official blew him off, Artest then ran full speed halfway down the court to get in Bryant's face to let him know it wasn't appreciated. No punches were thrown, and there was no pushing or shoving. But the way Artest charged at Bryant, and with two other incidents having already occurred in the third quarter, the referees weren't taking any chances -- Artest was ejected.

Bryant celebrated by making a circus shot in traffic, on a play where he threw an underhanded lob off the backboard -- to himself -- which he caught and finished with a layup. Bryant finished the night with 40 points on 16-of-27 shooting.

Lamar Odom was back in the starting lineup in place of Andrew Bynum, and while the move seemed to make the Lakers better offensively, you wouldn't be able to tell it by looking at either player's production. Odom did have seven points and 11 rebounds, but he made just half of his free throws, and did get into that tiff with Scola that seemed to ignite the other two incidents involving Fisher and Bryant. Bynum looked completely lost coming off the bench, and played just eight and a half scoreless minutes.

Yao Ming was in early foul trouble, and wasn't a factor at all for the Rockets. But that didn't stop the team from being effective, and Houston's bench, behind the play of Carl Landry and his 21 points and 10 boards, was able to completely erase a 15-point Laker lead in a matter of minutes.

There are questions of whether the league will hand down any additional punishments for the physical incidents that went down in Game 2. But for the Lakers, as they head to Houston now for two games with the series all tied up, there are no longer questions about the team's toughness -- they've proven that they can win by fighting it out any way that their opponents want to.

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