Kobe Bryant scored 33 points, and the Los Angeles Lakers took a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series with a 108-94 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night in Houston.
Lamar Odom had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and reserve point guard Jordan Farmar had 12 points and seven assists in place of the suspended Derek Fisher, who was ejected from Game 2 for a hard hit on Luis Scola when he set a pick.
Game 3 had no signs of the rough play that turned testy in Game 2 until the final minute, when Houston’s Ron Artest was ejected for a hard foul on Pau Gasol. Artest was ejected from Game 2 for a verbal altercation with Bryant following Bryant’s elbow to Artest’s upper chest.
“I don’t think that was a flagrant, maybe a flagrant one,” Bryant said of Artest’s ejection. “That rule is so all over the place, it’s hard to judge. I’m an ’80s baby, so that’s just two shots and let’s go.”
Artest had 25 points and Yao Ming added 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets but he was bothered by a lower left leg injury in the final minutes and was limping as he left the court.
The Lakers snapped the Rockets’ nine-game home winning streak.
Game 4 is Sunday in Houston.
The Rockets trailed 50-48 at halftime, then missed 15 of their first 19 shots in the third quarter.
“We had to get stops,” Bryant said. “When they started desperation plays we were not able to get stops. In the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, we started to get stops and it sustained us.”
Bryant had a quiet third quarter until the final 3 seconds, when he took an inbounds pass, dribbled away from Artest and swished a straight-on 33-footer at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 74-62 lead. He struck a frozen pose at midcourt after another signature shot, silencing the capacity crowd that booed him every time he touched the ball.
“I missed some easy shots at the rim, they just didn’t go down for me,” Bryant said. “I had to pull the string on that 3-pointer.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Houston’s Von Wafer jumped into Sasha Vujacic on a 3-point try and hit the floor. Players from both teams rushed over, but Wafer defused a potential confrontation by walking away. Wafer made three free throws to cut Houston’s deficit to 81-71.
Artest muscled inside for a layup and Yao dunked to pull the Rockets within 90-84 by the 4-minute mark. Farmar sank a baseline jumper with 3:54 to boost the lead back to eight.
Bryant beat the shot clock with another 3 with 2:21 left for a 95-84 lead that virtually put it away.
Los Angeles pushed the tempo from the start. Odom dunked an alley-oop pass from Trevor Ariza 9 seconds into the game, and Bryant hit a 3-pointer a minute later to pass Larry Bird and move into sixth place on the all-time postseason scoring list.
At Magic 117, Celtics 96: Dwight Howard had 17 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to lift the Orlando Magic over Boston and into a 2-1 series lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
“Just the whole team stepped up the defensive intensity,” said Howard, the NBA’s defensive player of the year. “It starts with me. I have to do that every night if we want to be successful.”
Rashard Lewis had 28 points, and Hedo Turkoglu scored 24 for Orlando, which played without starting point guard Rafer Alston. He was suspended by the NBA for slapping Eddie House in the back of the head in Game 2.
Paul Pierce broke out of his series slump to score 27 points, and Rajon Rondo added 15 for the defending champion Celtics, who trimmed a 20-point deficit to seven before the Magic regained control.
Game 4 is Sunday in Orlando, and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he won’t spend time enjoying his team’s latest win.
“This is not the time of year to celebrate a win in the playoffs, especially against a team like Boston,” Van Gundy said. “It’s basically like being at halftime with a one-point lead.”
It was the second time this postseason the Magic won with a starter suspended. Howard lost his cool and elbowed Samuel Dalembert in the head to draw a suspension for Game 6 of their first-round series against Philadelphia — but Orlando still managed to get a blowout win and eliminate the 76ers.