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Published:May 11th, 2009 11:58 EST
Houston Catches LA Off-Guard 99-87, Ties Up Series 2-2

Houston Catches LA Off-Guard 99-87, Ties Up Series 2-2

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Without the dominant center Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets were expected to fall in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers; instead they pulled off the dramatic upset 99-87, keeping Kobe Bryant to a mere 15 points, and evening the Western Conference semifinal playoff series at 2-2.

Yao collapsed to the ground late in Houston`s 108-94 loss to L.A. on Friday. Though his injury was first diagnosed as an ankle sprain, it was later confirmed a bone fracture in his left foot which will keep him from playing for 8-12 weeks. While he will miss the rest of the playoff, team physician Tom Clanton predicted Yao should make a full recovery before the start of the 2009-2010 NBA season.

But Yao`s teammates stepped up to fill the void of their sidelined comrade, and satisfied Rockets` fans by showing up the highly favored Lakers.

Aaron Brooks for the Rockets set the bar high with a career-high 34 points while chalking up 3 rebounds and 4 assists. Shane Battier went 5 for 10 from beyond the three-point mark, while going 6-6 from the free-throw line to finish the game second in scoring for Houston with 23. Luis Scola scored 11 points and 14 rebounds: his fifth career double-double in playoff competition.

For anyone thinking the Rockets surged ahead nearing the end of the game, all they needed to see was the first quarter where the Rockets stacked up a 22 to 7 lead.

Pau Gasol contributed 30 points and 9 rebounds as the only player for L.A. to score over 20 points and meet the expectations that none of his fellow Lakers could equal. The players for Los Angeles appeared languid from tipoff as they missed easy opportunities, conceded too many turnovers and struggled defensively all four periods. And Lakers` Coach Phil Jackson even worried about this turn of events when he cautioned players to not underestimate the camaraderie and chemistry of a potent Rockets` squad even without their celebrated star.

In their first quarter burst, the Rockets scored 22 to only 7 answered points by L.A., and shot four of their first five three-point attempts. Bryant started strong, banking the first three baskets for the Lakers, but his fellow teammates missed seven straight shots from the start of the game. This was the first time that Kobe Bryant was kept within 30 points in four games at the Toyota Center this season.

By the end of the first half, Houston had a 54-36 lead with 15 of those points put up by Battier.

Los Angeles only snatched two offensive rebounds, while managing to produce only four fast-break points by the third period: their lowest scoring half all season. Bryant`s 13 points in the first two quarters didn`t translate into the rest of the game.

In the pivotal third quarter, Houston outmatched L.A. 29-18, mainly on the 17-point effort from Brooks. Seconds before the third quarter buzzer sounded, the dexterous Brooks grabbed a midcourt pass from Ron Artest and sank a layup to cap off the term. As Artest watched Brooks` shot in utter amazement, he slapped his hands on the scorers` table and grinned at the hometown audience of thousands.

Ron Artest only had eight points, but dominated defensively with 10 rebounds and six assists.

Lamar Odom had an unimpressive two points in 25 minutes of play, coming off a Game Three win in which he scored 16 points. Odom`s problems continued when he committed a technical foul against Battier in the third quarter, causing him to leave the remainder of the game due to back spasms.

When Bryant came off the bench with 5:41 left on the game clock, the Lakers emerged to within 10 points of tying the game. But in the final minute, Houston effectvelt staved off any last gasp performance from the Lakers as Brooks banked the team`s last two points on free throw tries.