The Houston Rockets did more than just defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of their NBA Western Conference final Tuesday night at the Forum.
They exposed the Lakers as a team grown dangerously dependent upon the play of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a weakness the Rockets hope to continue to exploit in Game 3 Friday in Houston.
"They really don't have much inside besides Kareem," said Houston forward Ralph Sampson, whose 24 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots helped the Rockets to a 112-102 victory, tying the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
"We had confidence going into this series. But when you defeat the defending champions at home, it gives you a lot more inspiration."
Packing the lane tightly to keep Abdul-Jabbar from repeating his 31-point performance of Game 1 and Lakers guard Magic Johnson from driving to the basket, the Rockets outrebounded Los Angeles, 51-38, and held a 12-3 edge in blocked shots.
"I have not figured it out yet," said Abdul-Jabbar, who scored 21 fitful points on nine-for-26 shooting from the field. "They blocked a lot of shots. I would beat one of their big men and the other one would come over and block my shot. . . . They blocked so many shots that at one point I thought they dropped someone out of the roof.
"It was a rough night."
Sampson outrebounded Abdul-Jabbar, 16-4, and his defense helped force the Lakers' center to miss six of his seven sky-hook attempts. In addition, Houston center Akeem Olajuwon had 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks.
"Give Ralph and Akeem credit for the game," said Lakers Coach Pat Riley, whose team had won 14 of its last 16 home playoff games. "They beat us on the boards and dropped down low on our front line. We never adjusted and got our game together."
Johnson had 24 points and 19 assists for the Lakers, but forward James Worthy (seven for 19 from the field) and guard Byron Scott (six for 13) were below par. Los Angeles shot 44 percent from the field.
Houston extended its 54-53 halftime lead to 14 before the Lakers began to close. Back-to-back three-pointers by Scott and Michael Cooper cut it to 92-90 with 10:28 to play, but Houston scored 14 of the next 21 points to pull away.
At home in the Summit, the Rockets are 5-0 in the playoffs and 41-5 overall this season.
"This game gives us a lot of confidence going back to Houston because we cannot lose there," said Olajuwon. "We simply cannot. We'll do whatever it takes to win."