Yao-less Rockets even series with Lakers

The Sports Network

5/11/2009 12:24:55 AM

Houston, TX (Sports Network) - Shane Battier scored 12 of his playoff career- high 23 points in a dominating first quarter, as the Houston Rockets, with three regulars on the bench in street clothes, man-handled the Los Angeles Lakers, 99-87, in an unlikely outcome to Game 4 of their now dead-locked Western Conference semifinal series.

The Rockets made the playoffs without the services of guard Tracy McGrady (knee) for the final two months of the regular season and advanced past Portland in the first round despite losing backup center Dikembe Mutombo to a knee injury in Game 2.

A season-ending foot injury to All-Star center Yao Ming suffered in a Game 3 loss to the Lakers was supposed to be Houston's undoing, but a strong showing from Battier and a 34-point effort from Aaron Brooks has the injury-riddled underdogs and the top-seeded Lakers tied at two games apiece.

"Houston played a great game, give them credit. Brooks played great tonight, I noticed a lot of emphasis on getting their guards established immediately in the ball game," Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said. "They were able to get Battier open for some clear looks and both Brooks and Battier played well on both ends to help establish the momentum early."

Kyle Lowry posted 12 points, while Luis Scola added 11 and 14 rebounds for Houston, which led by as many as 29 before a too-little, too-late fourth quarter run by the Lakers.

Kobe Bryant was held to 15 points on 7-of-17 shooting, while Pau Gasol led LA with 30 points and nine boards. The reigning West champs never led in the setback.

Game 5 of the best-of-seven set is scheduled for Tuesday back in LA.

The hosts wasted little time taking it to the seemingly passive top seed, scoring the first nine points of the game.

Battier netted a three and a pullup jumper during the run and added two more from behind the arc shortly thereafter during another 10-point spurt that ended with Houston ahead, 19-4, with 5:30 left in the opening stanza.

The first quarter ended 29-16 and an 8-0 flurry capped by Lowry's three-point play made it 41-22 with just over seven minutes left before the break.

"They came out with great intensity, they wanted it more than us," Gasol said. "They were playing to survive, we were playing to move on and were more relaxed."

Brooks nailed a fadeaway before intermission to make it 54-36, and the second- year pro stepped up with 17 points in a clinching third quarter, capping it with an alley-oop layup off a long pass from Ron Artest.

Artest, who was ejected from the previous two games, finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and six assists but shot 4-for-19 from the floor. His flagrant foul two committed in Game 3 was downgraded on Saturday, allowing him to play in lopsided victory.

The Lakers' late 10-0 run ending with a three-pointer by Shannon Brown at the 2:49 mark of the fourth made it a 90-77 affair, though the visitors never cut their deficit to single digits for the remainder of the contest.

"We've worked hard all year and were disappointed with Game 3 because we didn't give the effort that we had in front of our fans all year, so there was a different look to our team," Battier said. "We just wanted to come out, play hard, take our shots and take our chances and we were able to put together a pretty good game."

Notes: The Rockets were able to go 3-2 without Yao during the regular season and 19-8 without him in 2007-08...Lamar Odom, coming off a 16-point, 13-rebound effort in Game 3, ended with just two points and six rebounds...Derek Fisher, who was suspended for Game 3 for intentionally slamming his body backward into Scola in Game 3, also logged just two points in the loss...The Lakers shot just 11- of-18 from the foul line, compared to a 17-of-20 performance from the stripe for Houston...Chuck Hayes, who got the starting nod in place of Yao, played 34-plus minutes, grabbing nine rebounds to go with two points.