HOUSTON, May 9 – Kobe Bryant poured in 33 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 108-94 National Basketball Association playoff victory over Houston Friday from which Rockets center Yao Ming limped away on a sore left foot.The victory gave Los Angeles a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series.
Lamar Odom scored 16 points with 13 rebounds and reserve point guard Jordan Farmar had 12 points and seven assists standing in for suspended Derek Fisher, who had been tossed from game two for a hard foul on Houston’s Luis Scola.
There was little sign of such rough play in game three until the Rockets’ Ron Artest was ejected for a hard foul on Pau Gasol in the final minute.
Artest was ejected from game two 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."
Prior to the incident, Artest had 25 points for Houston while Yao scored 19 points with 14 rebounds to post his sixth straight double-double.
But the Rockets were held to just 14 points in the third quarter, and Yao was clearly hurting in the fourth, favoring the foot that had already seen him sit out a practice session.
"I remember it hurting in the second quarter, third quarter and fourth quarter, one for each quarter," said Yao, who left the game in the final minute. "There’s different twists, one for each time."
That’s a big worry for the Rockets, who host game four on Sunday but saw their nine-game home winning streak broken.
Yao said he would test himself by running on Saturday and promised to be ready on Sunday.
"I really want to play," he said. "When tomorrow’s test shows everything is all right, I’m going to play."
Even if Yao is ready to go, Houston could find themselves without Artest, if the NBA decides his foul on Gasol is merits a suspension.
"They told me that he hit (Gasol) in the head which I guess that’s why they felt he had to be ejected," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "We’ll just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.
"It was a bang-bang play, and sometimes in this league if you hit a guy in the wrong spot it can be a flagrant foul. Pau was going in pretty hard and it was just one of those things."
The Rockets trailed 50-48 at halftime but missed 15 of their first 19 shots in the third.
"We had to get stops," Bryant said. "In the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, we started to get stops and it sustained us."
"We threw up a clunker," said Rockets forward Shane Battier. "We just couldn’t find ways to score in the third period. They were in control most of the game."
Bryant closed the third quarter with a three-pointer shot that gave the Lakers a 74-62 advantage.
"It was a big play for us. It finished the quarter off the right way," he said.
"Each quarter, we had our problems," Yao said. "In the first half, we had too many turnovers. In the third quarter, we just did not show up. We didn’t play well."