Mission control: Lakers take command in Houston
Houston, TX (Sports Network) - Karl Malone scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and Shaquille O'Neal added 17 points and 12 boards to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 92-88 overtime victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series at the Toyota Center.
Kobe Bryant scored six of his 18 points in overtime for the Lakers, who head back to Los Angeles with a three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series.
Jim Jackson scored 16 points and established a new career-high with 20 rebounds for Houston. Steve Francis led the Rockets with 17 points, while Cuttino Mobley also contributed 16 points.
Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday night at the Staples Center.
"This was a great team win," said Malone. "We scored just 12 points in the fourth and coach wasn't too happy with that."
The Lakers, who blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, trailed 87-83 in overtime, but scored nine of the final 10 points to escape with the win.
A jumper by Yao Ming, who finished with 16 points, and a pair of field goals by Mobley helped the Rockets build the four-point lead midway through the extra session.
"The victory was right in front of our face," said Yao of the overtime lead. "If we could have gotten one or two more rebounds, it would have been in our pocket."
Malone completed a three-point play with 1 1/2 minutes left to cut the Rockets' lead to one, 87-86. Bryant then stole the ball from Jackson and drove the length of the court, banking a shot high off the glass and in to give LA an 88-87 edge with just over a minute to go.
After Francis tied the game at 88-88 with a free throw, Bryant was fouled scoring on a driving layup and completed the three-point play to give LA a 91-88 lead.
"They made some good plays down the stretch and we turned the ball over twice and that really hurt us in crucial situations," Francis said.
Houston turned the ball over on the ensuing possession and Malone was fouled grabbing a key offensive rebound with 6.4 seconds left. Malone made 1-of-2 from the line to seal the win.
"I thought we were despondent when we came out of that regular time, going into overtime and played like it the first three minutes, but we found some energy at the end," said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson.
The Rockets trailed by 10 after three quarters and were still down 73-63 early in the fourth. Six quick points cut the Rockets' deficit to 73-69 and Houston would stay close until Francis tied the game at 81-81 with under a minute to go.
"We let the momentum slide in the fourth quarter," said Phil Jackson.
Bryant's shot on the ensuing possession rattled out, but Francis missed everything at the other end with time running out. LA had one final chance, but Bryant missed at the buzzer.
Yao put back a missed three-point attempt by Mobley to give the Rockets an early 10-8 lead and Houston would not trail again in the opening quarter. Malone scored to tie the game, but Francis hit a three-pointer to give the Rockets a 13-10 lead.
Kelvin Cato scored over O'Neal to increase the Rockets' lead to 15-10 and a three-pointer by Jackson put Houston ahead 19-12 with just under four minutes to play in the first quarter.
A three by Mobley helped the Rockets stay in front 22-17, and Houston would hold on to lead by three, 24-21, after 12 minutes of play.
Los Angeles scored six unanswered points to begin the second quarter and took its first lead since early in the opening stanza. Malone, who ended with 20 first-half points, scored the first four points and Bryant dunked over Francis to give the Lakers a 27-24 lead.
A three-pointer by Mobley put Houston back on top 31-29. Tempers flared with 7:13 left before halftime when Malone undercut Bostjan Nachbar on a driving layup. Nachbar grabbed Malone going down, ripping his jersey in the process, and Francis moved in to confront the Lakers forward. No punches were thrown and Nachbar completed the three-point play to give Houston a 34-29 lead.
Nachbar fouled Malone just seconds later and tension mounted again. Malone was called for a technical foul for chasing down Nachbar after the play and Jackson made the free throw to increase the Rockets' lead to 35-29.
Malone made 1-of-2 from the line for the foul by Nachbar to cut Houston's lead to 35-30. The Lakers scored seven of the game's next nine points and tied the game at 37-37 on a free throw by O'Neal with just under four minutes remaining before the break.
A three-point play by Malone gave the Lakers a three-point lead, 40-37, and Stanislav Medvedenko completed another three-point play to give LA a 44-39 lead. The Lakers went to the locker room with a 45-41 advantage.
Bryant did not score in the third quarter and O'Neal had just four points, but the Lakers still managed to improve upon their four-point halftime lead.
Devean George hit a pair of three-pointers and Gary Payton also connected from beyond the arc to get the lead to 14, 69-55, late in the frame. The Rockets closed the third quarter with four unanswered points to cut the LA lead to 69-59 after 36 minutes of action.
Jackson's previous career-high in rebounds was 14 against the Grizzlies on December 28, 1995.HOU LAL