If you gave Rick Adelman truth serum tonight and asked him if he wished Derek Fisher wasn’t suspended for Game 3, he’d surely say yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Jordan Farmar has played games where he’s been more technically proficient, games where he’s shot better and made more spectacular passes. Games where he’s rocked a much more prominent Jew-fro. But make no mistake, this was the best game Farmar’s has ever played. 12 points was pretty impressive considering he went 0-for-3 from 3-point range, but 7 assists and only 1 turnover? A defensive masterpiece in which he looked faster than Aaron Brooks and scrappier than Kyle Lowry? It was almost as if Fisher’s leveling of Luis Scola (whose game was decidedly more finesse tonight) was part of Phil Jackson’s master plan.
Farmar’s effort was the best non-Kobe performance the Lakers put forward tonight, but this was the only Laker playoff game this postseason in which everyone contributed. Even Andrew Bynum showed signs of life, blocking 2 shots and grabbing 5 rebounds in just over 10 minutes, after a postseason full of softer-than-Charmin performances. Lamar Odom played carelessly in the first three quarters but never due to lack of effort, and in the fourth quarter was the best defender and rebounder on the floor. Pau Gasol shot poorly but kept Yao Ming moving, which paid dividends when Yao’s ankle/foot/knee (not sure yet) gave way and left him limping throughout the rest of the game.
Yao hobbled off the floor after fouling out, and Ron Artest was sent packing after a ridiculous, reactionary flagrant-2 foul call after he knocked Gasol to the floor along with Kyle Lowry. Hard to know if Artest is paying for his reputation or the officials hoping to control a spirited series, but it’s easy to tell he’s getting screwed. Kobe elbowed him in the clavicle in Game 2 and Artest is called for the foul and quickly ejected before he can even think of embarrassing the league. Then he’s ejected again a game later for a foul that Tommy Heinsohn would have congratulated on CBS back in 1986. It’s almost as if the NBA is trying to upset Artest, trying to create another Dennis Rodman. Artest has already started doing strange things with his hair, the next logical step is cross-dressing and a late-season championship spree with a Phil Jackson-coached team (yes, I do see Artest as a future Laker, unless Jackson ends his career somewhere else).
The Lakers stepped on the Rockets’ throats when they realized what they should have known all along: Artest is their best offensive player. And in the NBA, that’s nowhere near enough to win a playoff series against a 60-win team. Artest was absolutely filthy on Wednesday, repeatedly hitting 30-foot threes with a hand in his face. He was Tracy McGrady. Tonight he was normal Artest, hitting just over 40% of his shots and battling frustration. With Yao hobbled, Farmar and Brown shutting down Houston’s point guards and Odom shutting down Luis Scola in the second half, the Rockets had no chance.
Actually, the Rockets had no shot to begin with, once they put Von Wafer on the floor. If Rick Adelman had to pull a Mike Singletary and send Wafer to the showers in Game 2, it doesn’t look great when he’s allowed to go 2-for-10 in 16 minutes a game later. But then, nobody ever accused Adelman of being a disciplinarian. He’s good at getting the most out of moderately-to-extremely talented teams, but he’s about as tough on his players off the court as Jerry Tarkanian.
After watching Farmar thoroughly outplay Fisher in November, it’s hard to imagine the younger, faster player would need to redeem himself in May. That’s exactly what had to happen for the Lakers to take control of this series tonight, and arguably what Farmar needed to resurrect his career. As much as any Laker fan would cringe at this sentence, Farmar channeled his inner Rajon Rondo tonight, and that’s even better news for Los Angeles than Andrew Bynum coming back to life. Quite an amazing story, since Farmar only played 10 minutes in the Lakers’ first 6 playoff games (just over 7 minutes combined in Games 1 and 2 aganst Utah, and not again until 3 minutes of action in the Game 1 loss to Houston). It all changed for Farmar after he got a much-needed haircut (Sasha, take notes) and a fortunate flagrant-2 from Fisher. Now it’s hard to believe Farmar will ever play less than 25 minutes in a playoff game for the Lakers ever again. When Fisher’s the coach and Farmar’s the starting point guard in a couple years, they might just look at Fisher’s hit on Scola as one of the most important plays of Farmar’s career.