By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted May 8 2009 10:21AM
LOS ANGELES -- Wednesday's game reminded us of so many things from the past that despite the unremarkable 111-98 final score that the Lakers beat the Rockets by, this Western Conference semifinals is assured of its own unique place in playoff history.
First there were the little, specific reminders.
In the early going, we were reminded of just a couple weeks ago when Kobe Bryant responded to L.A.'s first Playoffs loss by scoring 13 of his 38 points in the first quarter of Game 4 against Utah. This time he came off their second postseason loss to drop in 15 after one and finished with 40.
It was the type of performance by Bryant -- 16-for-27 shooting, six rebounds, three assists and an only-he-can-do-that pass off the glass to himself that he finished with a reverse layup in the fourth -- that also reminded us of last season when he was the MVP and best player in the league (and that that guy in Cleveland was still earning his chops).
When Andrew Bynum didn't start, we were reminded of just how well the Lakers have played in the last two postseasons with Lamar Odom in the first unit -- L.A. is 17-7 with Odom in there and Bynum benched.
When L.A. blew a 15-point lead in the second quarter, we were reminded of its Game 4 collapse in The Finals last year when Boston came back from down 24 to win. When Houston was making the comeback on the strength of Carl Landry's 16 points in the quarter, we were reminded of just how good the second-year forward was playing before he was shot in the leg in mid-March.
We were reminded of why 34-year-old Derek Fisher is still at starter as he shot 4-for-7 and helped hold Aaron Brooks to a 5-for-15 night. We were reminded of why it took Yao Ming seven years to get out of the first round, as foul trouble held him to a quiet 12 points and 10 rebounds. We were reminded of how the Lakers' Bench Mob got its nickname, as Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Shannon Brown combined for six steals and 22 points.
But in the second half we got the big reminder, the Post-it note, the déjà vu, the string around the finger, the total recall that will stick with us about this game: This is the Playoffs, expect it to get physical.
Late in the third quarter, Luis Scola was whistled for a foul as he grabbed Odom's jersey and rode him out of bounds. Odom got in Scola's face, Scola got in Odom's face and Walton came over to get in Scola's face, too. Sixteen seconds and a retaliatory Fisher elbow to the chest of Scola later, the game completely changed.
We were reminded of 1994, when Derek Harper and Jo Jo English went at it in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with David Stern watching the fight unfold an arm's length away. This time Fisher picked up his flagrant 2 foul with Stu Jackson, the league's executive vice president of basketball operations, sitting within spitting distance of the play.
The call made Jack Nicholson as mad as we've seen him since he played Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men and the expression he used to relay that anger towards the referees reminded us of the gesture popularized by Triple H during the 1999 WrestleMania.
At the beginning of the fourth, we were reminded of why the team is always bigger than the individual. Rockets coach Rick Adelman sent Von Wafer to the showers after Wafer initiated a shouting match with the coach during a timeout.
Then a few minutes later, Ron Artest caught a Bryant elbow to the throat while fighting for a rebound and after he got whistled for an over-the-back call, Artest stormed across the court to confront the Lakers star.
"I told him, 'You're hitting the wrong person. Don't you know you're hitting Ron Artest?' I'm not retaliating, I'm done with that," Artest said after being ejected from an otherwise brilliant 25-point game.
It all reminded Bryant of the Playoffs of yesteryear.
"The Sacramento series were very physical and the Portland series that we used to have were probably the most physical that I've been a part of," Bryant said. "This one looks like its shaping into a good, physical series. It's fun, '80s style."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said all of the extra-curricular activities from Game 2 "set a tone for what's going to happen" in the rest of the series, which could end up reminding us of some unfortunate events.
Remember that Knicks-Heat series in 1997 that was marred by suspension? Or the Suns-Spurs matchup 10 years later that saw its outcome change the minute Amar'e Stoudemire left the bench?
Any suspension to Bryant, Artest or Fisher in the coming days would conjure up those memories of physical, Playoffs-style basketball going too far and leaving a scar on what was shaping up to be a classic series. That's one scenario basketball fans hope this game never reminds them of.
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