...not necessarily. I'll stick to my initial prediction of Lakers in five or six, but a Rockets series victory wouldn't totally shock me. Houston's gameplan deserves commendation tonight, and I'll take you through it step-by-step:
(1) On the offensive end, they got the ball in to Yao Ming as often as they possibly could. This is something they couldn't do when Tracy McGrady was active and in the lineup. McGrady commanded the ball, often to a fault, and the result was Yao's stunted growth as a No. 1 scoring option.
Now, this is clearly Yao's team, and he's showing the world the extent of his offensive capabilities. Because of his abnormally soft touch for a player of his size, Yao's always had the potential to be one of the most dominant offensive centers in the history of professional basketball. Tonight he showcased his unique ability, knocking down college distance three-pointers with ease. His footwork on the block is impeccable, too.
Offensively, Yao could be more dominant than Shaquille O'Neal in his prime. Sure Shaq was stronger and more aggressive, but Yao's infinitely more skilled and you can't hack-a-Yao because he'll burn you. 10 for 10 at the free throw line this evening. Take that, Lakers.
(2) They used Aaron Brooks' quickness as a weapon against Derek Fisher's age. Fisher's always been labeled as one of the better defensive point guards in the game, but at this stage of his long NBA career, he just doesn't have the lateral quickness to contend with a springy, youthful PG like Brooks.
AB created havoc in the lane all night.
(3) Ron Artest took what was given to him and didn't force the action. Instead of the 50/50 McGrady/Yao split, it was a 70/30 Yao/Artest split. That's the way it should be when you have a 7'4" center that can hit jumpers like a smooth-stroking shooting guard. Artest showed excellent basketball IQ in game 1.
He also displayed the ability to knock down one critical shot after another.
(4) Defensively Houston did everything they could to force Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Derek Fisher to beat them. Kobe Bryant still got his, but he had to work awfully hard to get what he did. Gasol and Odom, on the other hand, have been known to crumble when the pressure's on, and neither responded well to the Rockets' defensive gameplan tonight.
Whether or not the Rockets can maintain the edge they created for themselves in game 1, well, that's a different story. If Gasol plays as poorly as he did this evening, then Houston definitely has a shot. There's only so much that Kobe can do by himself, so his teammates will have to provide more support as the series progresses.
And if they don't?
We could be in for a shocker in this series. Crazier things have happened...
("JFro," aka John Frascella, is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land."
It's the first full-length book centered on Boston Red Sox's popular
general manager Theo Epstein. Preview or purchase it online at Amazon.com, Barnes
and Noble or Borders. It's currently stocked in Barnes and Noble stores
throughout the U.S.)