Your humble bard now presents the Rumble at Staples Center last night. Game 2 was a perfect display on playoff basketball
(Act I: War of the Words)
Lamar Odom has been beat down by Luis Scola in the post. You have to know that of all the Lakers, his heart has been questioned more than anyone. Is there any surprise that he reached back into his traditions and did a 2-mile walk to Staples Center to clear his head, get focused. One can only imagine what was in his mind. "I gotta step it up today"
So when he and Scola tangled up, he couldn't back down. Somebody from Queens can't back down when his former AAU teammate Ron Artest is representing the borough to tune of a Game 1 win. He got in Scola's face and somehow sparked Luke Walton to do the same. All three got Technical fouls and as the Lakers rose as one behind that. Something bigger was happening.
Next thing, we see. Odom is grabbing rebounds with a vengeance. Running the floor with an anger not seen since....well since, ever.
(Act Two: The FISH that saved L.A., moments later)
Derek Fisher heard the murmurs. He's the slowest PG in the postseason. He can't guard Aaron Brooks. His jumper has gotten so dry, you could see the dust when it clanked off the rim. He aged overnight and suddenly got expendable.
He heard all of that. But maybe everyone forgot that the Lakers reacquired him for two reasons. Toughness and stability. Someone who has the ear and respect of Kobe Bryant and someone who brings a grittiness to a team that lacks it. He's already vocal as the prez of the NBA players association but he needed to make a statement in Game 2.
Enter the bad guy from Act 1: Luis Scola. Coming to set a screen, Fish had to send his own message. He reared up and sent Scola down with a shot I hadn't seen since Zidane crushed that guy in the 2006 World Cup. With blood coming from a cut in his ear, message was delivered. Nobody was going to punk the Lakers without somebody knowing about it and nobody on this Lakers team was going to sleepwalk anymore.
Sometimes leadership means falling on a grenade to motivate your team instead of going for the kill. D. Fish embodied that last nite.
(Act III: The Passion of the Artest, fourth quarter, 6:57)
Ron Artest v. Kobe Bryant. Two of the best two-way players in the game. Two players who love physicality. Artest loves to get under your skin, the germ that becomes an infection that has thrown many players off their game. He's the new Dennis Rodman, the old Public Enemy No. 1, and right now, the spark to Houston's playing well without Tracy McGrady. You remember that guy, right?
Artest lit up the Lakers in Game 1 (21 and 7 dimes). He hit tough shots, made tough plays and played tough perimeter D. The pride of Queens was playing like he was on a mission - a mission to retake his image as a tough player, instead of a Palace brawler. Reminded some of his borough neighbor Nas, always hungry since Takeover brought out the hunger in him.
The two players in this pivotal act had both scored 20 pts before going for a loose rebound. Wait, did Kobe just hit him with an elbow? Artest responded to that no-call and was called for a foul. A questionable call yes, but what happened next was pure drama.
His protest fell on deaf ears to the referees so he appealed to Kobe for a reason. Give that man a Tech for his effort (crowd applause). He still protested his case and despite being seperated, he wouldn't leave without making his point. For his extra credit, he was rewarded with an early shower after his second Tech (more crowd applause). The patrons roared, sensing that the Rockets were imploding.
Ron-Ron may have won the battle, but the victor off this war was more inspired to make his kill shot
(Act IV: The Black Mamba Strikes)
To understand this act, you have to go back to the 1st quarter. Kobe Bryant was hitting all kinds of shots. 13 pts to spur the Lakers to a hot start. But the Rockets made their charge in the 2nd and 3rd. The season starts flashing in front of his eyes. He sees his longtime teammate make a statement and for someone who needs no motivation to play hard, it was time for the kill.
Matter of fact, head back to earlier this year. Kobe and Ron-Ron exchanged words in Houston. Result: An 18-pt fourth quarter that sends Houston down in defeat. So with that said, is there any surprise what would happen after Artest got ejected.
Like the Bride in Kill Bill after being beaten around senseless, Bryant struck down with furious anger like Jules Winnfield and Vince Vega. Jumpers over Shane Battier that missed in Game 1 hit nothing but net in Game 2. One thing on his mind - kill or be killed. It's that same mentality that the great players have. Magic, MJ, Larry Bird. And you take it up a notch by letting everyone know you're unstoppable.
That Tech he got by telling Battier what we already knew? Just a formality. 40 pts and a demonstration of the iron will to win Game 2? Priceless.
People said don't fire Ron Artest up. But they forgot about what happens when Kobe gets fired up. And who was there to greet our hero after the game? D. Fish, all suited up. The two leaders left knowing they made their point that night.
So what's gonna happen in Game 3? Who knows. We can almost assume Derek Fisher will be suspended (although I've seen far worse stuff get nary a mention - Rajon Rondo anyone?) and the jury is out on Kobe's elbow (yeeeeah right).
But we do know that the Lakers just got a lot tougher and they're gonna need it not just for this round, but the rest of the way. And I couldn't have been happier to see that.