Fueled by their most ferocious defense of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers took the Houston Rockets out of their game from the opening tip.
Shaquille O'Neal also proved unstoppable, scoring 28 points as the Lakers never trailed in beating the Rockets 110-98 Tuesday night.
"We just did what we're supposed to do, win at home and keep the homecourt advantage," O'Neal said. "The guys are really playing well, and when we're all playing well, we're going to be a tough team to beat."
"We had shots and didn't take them," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "We were out of sync and frantic."
Even 3-point shooting, usually the province of the Rockets, belonged to the Lakers. Los Angeles hit 10 of 18 3-pointers, and a flurry of long-range baskets by the Rockets got them no closer than nine points in the second quarter. The Rockets hit 11 3-pointers, but shot only 40 percent from the floor for the game.
"The fact that we didn't come out and meet this team's intensity is what lost it for us," Houston's Scottie Pippen said. "I mean, they took the game from us in the first five or six minutes, and we just never were able to climb far enough up the hill to get back in the game."
The Lakers still couldn't stop Charles Barkley, one-third of Houston's trio of future Hall of Famers who had 19 points and 13 rebounds. The scoring load fell to Houston's bench. Sam Mack led the Rockets with 20 points, including four 3-pointers, and Brent Price added 18.
"I can't sit here and tell you what went wrong because anything I say would be excuses," Barkley said. "We just got killed, no excuses. They kicked our butts."
Pippen struggled offensively for the second straight game, with hree points on 0-of-7 shooting while being guarded by Bryant. Pippen is 5-of-20 from the floor and 0-of-6 on 3-pointers in the series.
"They got going so well offensively that it sort of overshadowed what I was trying to do," Pippen said. "I was trying to get the ball above the basket, draw some fouls, put them back on their heels and make them have to defend against the drive, so it could open up our total game."
Hakeem Olajuwon was saddled with three fouls in the second quarter, when the Lakers led by 23 points. He finished with eight points on 3-of-10 shooting.
"I'm tired of hearing about getting somebody involved in the offense," Olajuwon said of integrating Pippen. "We're looking for every opportunity and all the help we can get, and we don't hold anybody back. When Scottie brings the ball down and has it in his hands, he has the freedom to create."
The Lakers' defense ignited from the start, limiting the Rockets to just 12 points in the first period, fewest by a Los Angeles opponent in a quarter this season.
"We realize that if we go out there and play aggressive defense, you tend to get turnovers, you get easy baskets and it really fuels our offense," Glen Rice said. "We realize the defense is going to be the spearhead to how the Los Angeles Lakers go."
The Rockets began Tuesday's game just where they left off in the series opener, committing six turnovers in the first quarter. Late turnovers by Pippen and rookie Cuttino Mobley cost Houston in a 101-100 loss Sunday.
While the Lakers were shutting down the Rockets defensively, they shot 61 percent in the opening quarter and led by 19 points.
"One thing that's making it easier for us is that we're moving the basketball," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "Everybody is making the extra pass, trying to get the best shot. I believe that's what is allowing us to shoot the ball well."
Olajuwon went to the bench with his third foul early in the second quarter. He watched the Rockets briefly get back into the game on the 3-point shooting of Price and Mack. They combined for five 3-pointers in a five-minute span to draw the Rockets within nine points.
But Rice answered with a 3-pointer and Bryant scored on a tipin as the Lakers outscored Houston 11-5 over the final 2:51 of the second period for a 55-40 halftime lead. Bryant added 19 points, Fisher 16 and Rice 14.
Bryant, Fisher and Rice each unleashed a 3-pointer in a 10-0 run that pushed the Lakers' lead to 67-46 early in the third period.
The Rockets were struggling so much, Pippen and Mack both shot air balls. The only Rocket with any success in the third was Barkley, whose 12 points didn't make a dent in Houston's 23-point deficit.
O'Neal scored eight straight points midway through the fourth quarter when Olajuwon's replacement, Antoine Carr, fouled out. Olajuwon returned, but earned his fourth foul wih 5:31 left and the Rockets trailing by 19.
Notes: For the first time in four games at the Forum this season, Olajuwon didn't foul out. He had four fouls. ... The Lakers were again outrebounded 44-43, and the Rockets hold an 81-77 edge on the boards in the series. ... Seven times the Lakers have swept their first-round opponent in a best-of-5 series, and six of those teams advanced to the NBA finals. ... Pippen tied Dennis Johnson for sixth place with his 180th NBA postseason game. ... The Rockets are still in search of the franchise's 100th postseason victory. ... The Lakers are 13-0 in Game 2 contests after winning Game 1 in a best-of-5 series. ... Barkley drew the loudest boos and worst verbal abuse of any player from the sellout crowd of 17,505.
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