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Sunday May 17, 2009 8:13 PM

Rockets Fall Short in Game 7

Offensive woes doom Houston in 89-70 series-clinching defeat

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

Los Angeles - Ron Artest sat on the scorers table, his arms around Carl Landry and Von Wafer, with the clock about to strike midnight on the Rockets’ Cinderella series. Game 7 no longer hung in the balance – LA’s dominance down low and Houston’s MIA offense had seen to that - but Artest was still teaching, still encouraging and still rallying his young teammates.

“We’re going to grow together,” he told them. “These guys showed a lot of heart and I was just happy to be with them.”

And with those simple words, Artest showed that while the Rockets’ season may be over, the spirit which carried them further than so many had expected continues to live on.

It was that spirit, that resiliency, which Houston had hoped could carry the team to one more stunning upset over the heavily-favored Lakers. But Los Angeles flexed its considerable muscle early while the Rockets struggled to find their shooting touch all afternoon.

LA was especially dominant inside, owning a 46-30 edge in paint points and a jaw-dropping 55-33 advantage on the boards. Indeed, it seemed as if Houston’s undermanned frontline, so courageous in holding down the fort once Yao Ming was sidelined with a foot injury, finally gave way to the Lakers’ superior edge in size and strength. Pau Gasol led LA with game-highs in both points (21) and rebounds (18), while Adrew Bynum broke out of his series-long slumber with 14 points, 6 boards and 2 blocked shots.

Meanwhile, Houston’s offense never could manage to get out of the starting gate. The Rockets began the game by missing their first 12 shots and scored only 31 points in the first half, leaving them in a 20-point hole by the time the third quarter rolled around. Needing a minor miracle to overcome that deficit, Houston’s trademark defense did its part, but the requisite offensive explosion was nowhere to be found. Instead, the turnovers (15 in all) and missed shots continued to pile up, leaving the Rockets to suffer through a fourth quarter which played out as little more than a mere formality.

“They played more aggressive,” lamented head coach Rick Adelman after the game. “That wasn’t a big surprise to us that they were going to extend their defense. I thought we did some uncharacteristic things. We got a couple of shots blocked when the shots weren’t even there; we crashed into their hands a couple of times, that’s on us. Usually it’s a combination of both teams. They picked their aggression up and its not like we didn’t talk about that, we should have been ready for that and we weren’t. We didn’t respond the way we needed to and we got down. It’s hard to come back when you get down on the road just like they found out.

“It wasn’t like they had a fantastic offensive game. We just were poor on our offensive end which was one of our problems all season long. When we struggled, usually it was because of our offense more than anything else.”

Still, Adelman had a difficult time focusing on the negative, choosing instead to express his pride for a group which won over so many fans with their heart, determination and never say die mentality.

“I’m really proud of our team. The way they responded, even going into the series, losing Yao, we won two games after that, I’m very proud of these guys they bust their tails. Today the Lakers were just the better team. I think we learned a lot about our group. The people we have and some of our young guys really improved during the series. We had our ups and downs like you’d expect but today more downs than ups. Overall I’m really pleased with them.

“It’s important to understand we’ll have Yao back (next season) and we have a core group of young guys who have grown in the last two years. We threw Aaron Brooks out there to the wolves. I mean, he was in summer league last year. He became our starting point guard and had some terrific games. We have Kyle Lowry who had never played in the playoffs before this year; Carl Landry is a second-year guy. Luis Scola has played big time basketball but the NBA is still different… I mean, we have a lot of guys who did a remarkable job and I think it’s a nice thing that, when we look at our team and how we’re going to get better, you expect your young guys to keep improving and that usually pushes you over the top.”

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

on tonight’s game:

“Obviously disappointed with the way we started the game they got us on our heels the first two quarters much like we did them at our place and we just never recovered.”

on his team’s performance over this season:

“I’m really proud of our team. The way they responded, even going into the series, losing Yao, we won two games after that, I’m very proud of these guys they bust their tails. Today the Lakers were just the better team. I think we learned a lot about our group. The people we have and some of our young guys really improved during the series. We had our ups and downs like you’d expect but today more downs than ups. Overall I’m really pleased with them.”

on whether his team’s loss was a result of the Lakers’ defense or his team’s offensive performance:

“They played more aggressive. That wasn’t a big surprise to us that they were going to extend their defense. I thought we did some uncharacteristic things. We got a couple of shots blocked when the shots weren’t even there; we crashed into their hands a couple of times, that’s on us. Usually it’s a combination of both teams. They picked their aggression up and its not like we didn’t talk about that, we should have been ready for that and we weren’t. We didn’t respond the way we needed to and we got down. It’s hard to come back when you get down on the road just like they found out.

It wasn’t like they had a fantastic offensive game. We just were poor on our offensive end which was one of our problems all season long. When we struggled, usually it was because of our offense more than anything else.

(on the future): It’s important to understand we’ll have Yao back and we have a core group of young guys who have grown in the last two years. We threw Aaron Brooks out there to the wolves. I mean, he was in summer league last year. He became our starting point guard and had some terrific games. We have Kyle Lowry who had never played in the playoffs before this year; Carl Landry is a second-year guy. Luis Scola has played big time basketball but the NBA is still different… I mean, we have a lot of guys who did a remarkable job and I think it’s a nice thing that, when we look at our team and how we’re going to get better, you expect your young guys to keep improving and that usually pushes you over the top.

SHANE BATTIER

on tonight’s game:

“Coming in here for game 7, we knew they were going to give us their best shot especially in the first quarter and to be honest with you, we just didn’t have energy to match it. We turned the ball over, they got in transition, they got some easy buckets and we didn’t move the ball well enough to make enough shots to make it a game. Unfortunately, after we got past the 1st quarter we played them, pretty straight up but the damage had been done at that point.”

on whether or not he saw a different Lakers team compared to Game 6:

“I don’t think it’s specifically to the Lakers. Every team plays better at home, every team plays with more energy, the ball moves. We’re a different team at home, so I think it’s more home away than anything else.”

on the importance as well as the experience gained in this series as a team:

“This was a huge milestone for our organization. We had so many young players; this experience was invaluable to them. Going to the second round in the playoffs, going to a Game 7 and seeing what it’s about. That’s experience you cannot buy so it’s no question all of our guys, especially our young guys will be much better because of it.”

RON ARTEST

on having to play catch up the entire game:

“That happens. It happens to the best of us. I wouldn’t necessarily say that that we were

playing catch up. I just think that as these guys get older, they will have been to a Game

7. Most young guys get swept; most young guys don’t get to Game 6 or Game 5. These young fellows went to Game 7 and that really will help the Rockets in the future.”

on why the Lakers got off on such a great start:

“These guys wanted to win it so bad, I think we just didn’t want to mess up. As a unit we

didn’t want to mess up. We were trying to do everything the right way instead of being

relaxed and playing. But I know next year these guys will be ready.”

on whether or not the Rockets came out too tight in today’s game:

“I don’t think we were tight, I just think that we were maybe thinking too much. It’s hard to explain. We made passes that led to turnovers. We didn’t get a chance to get Shane [Battier] open. We didn’t get a call, we didn’t get a

chance to drive and I think guys realize where we have a chance to improve. Like I said, I

am glad to be young and get a chance to grow with these fellows, this team is so good.”

I thought we would come back, just with the history of this team. But we did play a better second half.

(on what he said to Landry and Wafer): We’re going to grow together. These guys showed a lot of heart and I was just happy to be with them. We’re going to grow together.

AARON BROOKS

on the outcome of tonight’s game:

“What happened was we just had an off game. They stepped up the intensity, we fumbled

a little bit and they got off to a great start and we kind of rode it from there.”

on the Rockets missing their first 12 shots:

“Yea, we just missed shots again and you cannot do that against them because they are going to score points. Defensively, we did pretty good. We had some turnovers in the first quarter and they had 22 points in the first quarter, that is pretty good defense for us. We just didn’t score any baskets.”

on being satisfied with the Rockets’ season:

“It was a big series for us. We played pretty good. We gave it a good shot. There was a better team today and we wish we could just keep playing; we wish it was win by two but it is not.”

on the Lakers’ defensive efforts in today’s game:

“They were just zoning up and we didn’t react well. We couldn’t make any shots and I think that was the problem. We did not make any shots in the first half. In games like this it would have been nice to have a low-post presence.”

LUIS SCOLA

It’s hard. We just lost so we’re upset. But I think in a couple days or couple weeks we’ll be happy we were able to reach what we achieved. We just need to keep moving forward.

It’s all about competing. You have to be ready to compete against anybody and just play hard. Sooner or later, good things will happen.

They just played better. We have to be honest and congratulate them because they were the better team and they deserved to win. So good luck and congratulations – we can’t be looking for excuses. They outplayed us today, they played great defense and that’s why they won.

PHIL JACKSON

on tonight’s game:

“I haven’t looked at the stat sheet but I will tell you this, I think our activity level was pretty good on the defensive end and we changed the game around right off the bat. It wasn’t the prettiest game. Those games will happen sometimes at game seven when teams know each other so well they’re almost running their offense for them but we got it accomplished today.”

on this series’ first quarter leads determining the outcome of the game:

“It’s a relatively appropriate stat. For this team and Houston’s team it really makes a difference.”

on looking ahead:

“I’m already looking forward, starting to plan. You get in that planning stage immediately when you’re in the playoffs. It’s like suspended life, you’re alive for seven more games or another series and you keep going. It’s living every play.”

on the Lakers’ big men:

“We had a lot of faith in that. I let them go right in to make sure the Rockets had pressure put on them and that with that collapse we could get other things off them like shots. We thought that they would double team to get some help and because they were short handed that it would be a foul situation. Pau and Drew both played well in segments of the game offensively but they did really good job defensively.”

KOBE BRYANT

on an interaction he had with Pau Gasol and what he told him:

“I was just proud of the way he played. He played like one of the best players in the world. I was just excited for him.”

on what to take away from this series:

“Our effort could be much better, you know, in Game 4 and Game 6. But still, Houston played extremely well. In a series, it’s about making adjustments. And that’s what we were able to do. We made our adjustments. We came out here and we were ready to go. But you can’t take anything away from this Houston team.”

on whether he felt that he took his defense to another level in today’s game:

“You know what? I do, actually. In Game 6 at halftime we made a decision to get more aggressive – to get up in passing lanes – and we just turned it up another notch. After that game, even though we lost the game, we understood that there was another level still that we could go to defensively.”

PAU GASOL

on what he learned from this series and what to take going forward:

“I think we learned that if we play hard every night and we’re ready to compete, starting on the defensive end, we’re going to give ourselves a chance. Hopefully we’re going to carry that into the next round and to a championship. That’s something we need to do consistently no matter what, no matter where we play. And that’s going to set the tone and that’s going to make everything else easier.”

on his motivation for today’s game:

“All the motivation in the world was into the game; it’s Game 7. It’s do or die. I think we are all here to accomplish something great. We had the opportunity today to finish it off and move on to the conference finals and that was the only that that was on my mind.”

on putting it all out on the floor:

“ Kobe always tells me to leave no bullets in the charger, or gun… As far as the energy and going after plays, holding them every single possession, stopping Brooks on all those pick-and-rolls and all that penetration; it’s hurt us in Houston so much. I made an effort on that to get me going that way. And it worked.”

LAMAR ODOM

on why the Lakers don’t play like tonight all the time:

“To make it interesting. It’s Hollywood you know. ”

on the difference between playing on Houston’s court vs. playing at home:

“The team they came to play, you know they played well. It didn’t take anything away from them. To get back to the championship is hard. You got to expect teams to play their best; especially on their home court.”

on what the Lakers did better today:

“Defense, our defense was a lot better today.”

on how their defense was improved:

“Stopped penetration. We were able to stop Brooks from getting to the hole and we made them take jump shots, and they never got on track.

ANDREW BYNUM

on tonight’s game:

“It went well. We were able to go out there and do what we practiced on. And we were able to get Aaron Brooks Baseline penetration.”

on why they can’t win this way every game:

“If we knew that I think we would be undefeated right now in this post-season. But all we can do is build and learn and watch the same tape of this game and we are going to see what improvements we made.”

SHANNON BROWN

on if they will be ready Tuesday game:

“We are definitely going to be ready. You know today was a good win for us, good thing it was an early game. We get to think about it a little bit go of it tomorrow and get ready to play Tuesday.”

on Denver:

“They play hard, they execute, you know they didn’t really get out their body too much, they stuck with their game-plan was, and they came out at their house and knocked down shots, played hard, things worked for them they came here they really didn’t shoot it that well, we made adjustments on defense we shot the ball well.

TREVOR ARIZA

on the Rockets:

“That’s a tough team over there, they played hard no matter what the situation is and we got one down they played even harder. So you got to give them a lot of respect they played hard and they gave us a run for out money.”

“We got to just come out from the gate you know not relax any. Don’t rely on our second half, the way we play in the second half. We have to play that way in the first half. If we do that we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

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