Some things I noticed from last night:
1) The Lakers have not faced a team this Playoffs who play them defensively the way these Rockets do. The Rocket's D is predicated on body to body contact. Not only are you going to get your shot challenged, you are going to feel a body on you before you even elevate to shoot. This can be extremely frustrated, especially if fouls are not called and Kobe is not able to take advantage of the defender's closeness at the free throw line.
2) The Lakers have no answer for Yao Ming. Even when Yao was doubled last night (few and far between) he was skilled enough to either turn and shoot over both the defenders or pass to a wide open shooter who could pull up and make the Lakers pay. He also played like a MAN after getting bumped knee to knee with Kobe Bryant. As soon as he went down, I sat up and visions of the Lakers sweeping the Rockets immediately after they inbounded the ball after his injury. But, Yao stopped before going into the locker room, stretched in the hallway, talked down his trainer, and walked back out and hit 2 jumpers and 4 freethrows to put this game away. He gave the Rockets an emotional lift and set the tone for toughness for the series, something I never thought I would be attributing to him.
3) The Rockets didn't do their customary lay down in the 4th quarter. This is the first game of 2008-2009 season/playoffs that the Rockets have beaten the Lakers on any court. This is extremely surprising, as some people were calling for 4 close Laker wins and a sweep. The Rockets were able to shake off what had previously happened, go into LA, and take an 8 point victory.
4) The Lakers have no answer for Aaron Brooks. He shows the uncanny ability to go by almost any Laker on the floor, getting into the key and causing havoc with his layups or kickouts. If the Lakers can't figure out a way to neutralize his speed, this could be a wild series.
5) The Rockets have not one, but 2 better then average Kobe Bryant defenders. A unique advantage the Rockets have over any other team facing the Lakers is that they are able to put 2 very good defenders who have already had exceptional defensive games against Kobe. Monday that defense was on display, as Kobe had 32 points on 31 shots. He went 3-5 while Artest was guarding him, and 8-22 when Shane Battier was in front of him. Houston loves this, as it throws the Lakers out of sync and causes Kobe to shoot more. Both Shane Battier and Ron Artest also openly welcome the challenge of defending Kobe, which I am sure irks Kobe.
6) The Lakers still almost won, even though they played badly. This is still one of the top 3 teams in basketball, make no mistake. They have the ability to take the next 4 and make this blog post irrelevant. BUT, they are certainly not in a good position right now, with Houston at worst taking a split back home to Texas. We will see if the Lakers can rebound tonight.