Aaron has been wildly inconsistent in the playoffs, ranging from dominating to dominated. Sunday afternoon though he played like he just had a 2-ton weight removed from his ankles. 34 points on 12-20 shooting and one sick alleyoop layin at the end of the third. Honorable mention: Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes.
No Yao and Ron went 4-19 and the Rockets not only lived through it but thrived. Pretty amazing, but not likely to be duplicated. Artest has got to shoot better than this if he's going to hoist a couple dozen shots like this. Honorable mention: Lamar Odom, who got put on his butt in this one (literally).
There was one other thing the Rockets won't have the rest of the playoffs.
With 22 All-Star appearances combined sitting on the bench in street clothes, the Rockets whipped the Los Angeles Lakers from tipoff to final horn, taking Game 4 99-87 to even the series at 2 games a piece.
"We're a resilient group," said Shane Battier. "We've never quit. We've never stopped believing."
Astoundingly, the Rockets had amassed a 29-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
"Coming out and playing the way we did in the first three quarters was just incredible," said Rockets coach Rick Adelman. "We talk about this team all the time, that they're going to play hard, and they're resilient, and all the adjectives that you want to use, but tonight just showed it. They came out to win the game."
Aaron Brooks wasn't the lone star for the Rockets in this game, but he did shine brightest. Houston's starting point rebounded from a forgettable Game 3 and ran Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar ragged. Brooks put up a career high 34 points on 12-20 shooting, including 4 strokes from trifecta territory.
Raheel Ramzanali and David Nuño break down Game 4, calling it the "Mother's Day Massacre". Clips from Phil Jackson, Rick Adelman, Aaron Brooks, Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes
In 3 games without Yao and T-Mac this year, Brooks is averaging 22.7 points on 56% shooting.
"Houston played a great game," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "Give them some [rhymes with "clucking"] credit, I mean for real. This kid Brooks played great tonight. He was terrific off the floor."
Battier was his partner in crime on offense and shot the ball very well, especially in the first quarter. Battier hit three triples in the frame, the third of which gave the Rockets a 17-4 lead.
Total damage: 23 points, including 5 threes, and held Kobe Bryant to 15 points on 7-17 shooting.
"It's not going to happen too often," said Battier on outplaying Kobe. "This box score may be framed in my house somewhere."
These things happen in threes, and Chuck Hayes rounded out this trio. Hayes' post defense was outstanding, helping the Rockets limit the Lakers to just 36 points by halftime.
Keep in mind -- the story of this series has been the Lakers seeming immunity to Houston's suffocating defense, but Hayes is a new strain. Pau Gasol could not easily get by the Chuckwagon or post him up (especially in the first three quarters), as he did against Yao.
It's worth mentioning that in the last four seasons, the Rockets with Yao are 3-11 against the Lakers, with Kobe and company putting up almost 102 points per. Without him? They're now 4-0, holding LA to 82.5 points a night.
Yao is a special player... he deserves enormous praise and respect. But look, he's a special offensive player. With the Lakers adjustments and Yao-centric defense in Games 2 and 3, Houston's offense slowed, they turned it over (in some part due to trying to get the ball to Yao) and the big guy scored just 15.5 points a night.
That can be made up.
But if Hayes can elevate this team defensively, he can change the series and at that point, look out -- because anything can happen.
"The defense was going to be there," said Hayes. "Yes, we don't have Yao, but the defense is going to be there. The offense is going to have to come by committee."
Hayes, Battier, Ron Artest and Kyle Lowry (who was razor sharp in this game) are anywhere from above average to elite defenders, and Luis Scola does a decent job. You can not count the Rockets out (as most everyone already had done) if their defense starts denting the Lakers high-powered offense. Houston's own offense will never match that of the Lakers as far as efficient scoring goes, but they have a shot at leveling the field with their defense.
I'm just proud of this team responding the way they did after a long, mournful night from the Yao news. Win or lose, I've got tremendous respect for the guys in red right now.