Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
In the Rockets' first round series against Portland, Luis Scola was the primary beneficiary of Nate McMillan's strategy to double-team Yao Ming. With Scola's primary defender, LaMarcus Aldridge, devoting much of his attention to Yao down on the low block, Scola drifted out to 15-20 feet, where he punished the Blazers. Scola averaged 16.2 points in 33.3 minutes over the six games against Portland.
The Lakers have been more attentive to Scola. Over the first three games of the conference semifinal series, they sent Lamar Odom to help on Yao. But their weak side defenders did a better job than Portland's depriving Scola space, while the their ball side defenders cut off angles to Scola. The result was far fewer open jumpers and driving lanes for Scola, who shifted his focus to the glass, where he's done solid work against the Lakers.
Once Yao was lost and Chuck Hayes became the Rockets' starting center, the halcyon days of The Open Luis Scola 18-Foot Jumper figured to be history. The Lakers' center would undoubtedly slough off Hayes and make life tougher for Scola and the Rockets' other scorers.
Scola had unremarkable Games 4 and 5, but Thursday night, he fueled the Rockets' jackrabbit start with a 14-point first quarter:
Lakers Breakdowns [1st Quarter, 10:59; 1st Quarter, 10:30] Some of Scola's success can be attributed to a disoriented Lakers defense. Twice the Lakers' strong-side pressure leaves Scola with nothing but open space around him, and on both possessions, the Lakers pay more attention to Chuck Hayes off the ball than they do to Scola. The first instance results in an open elbow jumper, while the second yields a baseline drive that earns Scola a trip to the line (this was the play where Pau Gasol lectures Andrew Bynum after the whistle). Though both shots come courtesy of a lax Lakers defense, the four points still require Scola to hit from mid-range and make a play for himself.
The Hook [1st Quarter, 9:59; 1st Quarter, 5:33] Scola has a soft touch on his jump hook, both off the pivot and when he's sweeping across the lane from the left block. It's not a particularly good-looking shot, but Scola has made it a centerpiece of his repertoire. He hits the first hook as he backs in from the right side with Bynum's forearm pressed against his upper back. The second is sweet, as Scola deploys a fake spin to buy himself space from Gasol, then elevates for the shot.
Elbow Jumper [1st Quarter, 10:59; 1st Quarter, 1:08] The first shot is cross-referenced on "Lakers Breakdowns," and this one is close to falling under that rubric, too. Gasol makes a poor decision to follow Ron Artest -- who is already being trailed closely by Trevor Ariza -- as Artest picks up a handoff at the pinch post from Scola. Artest has his moments in Game 6, but generally plays a less selfish game. When he spins back to the middle on his drive and sees that Gasol has chosen to drop off Scola, Artest immediately shuttles the ball Scola's way. Scola drains the jumper.
The "Dream Shake" [1st Quarter 7:05] At least that's what the broadcast team calls it. On the right side of the basket, Odom shades Scola's left shoulder, sending him middle. After his second dribble, Scola spins baseline for his third dribble, before faking back middle, getting Odom to commit. Scola then pivots baseline, steps up and under for a layup, and gives the Rockets a 15-1 lead. Comparing Scola to Hakeem Olajuwon seems unfair. To the extent the parallel exists, it speaks to Scola's footwork, which is incredibly good and makes Scola seem quicker than most of his defenders anticipate. While they're being disarmed, Scola is finding his way to the basket.
The Power Drive [1st Quarter, 6:35] Soft touch, but hard drives. Against Gasol, Scola's back is to the basket off the left block. He waits for Artest to clear, then takes two dribbles with his right while barreling into the lane with his left shoulder. Gasol offers little resistance and almost steps aside for Luke Walton and Odom, neither of whom can deny Scola as he lunges up for a right-handed toss off the glass. And the foul (missed FTA).
Scola was the pacesetter in Game 6. His absence for the game's final 8:48 gives you an idea of the kind of fourth quarter Carl Landry had for Houston. Landry scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds, one on a mad scramble which sent him crashing to the floor where he gobbled up the ball and called timeout while sprawled on the hardwood [4th Quarter, 3:56]. Scola will be back in the lineup to start Game 7 on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center, where the Rockets will try to record one of the more improbable series upsets in recent memory. If they beat the Lakers, it'll be because they got lockdown perimeter defense from their wings, post defense and solid screens from their center whose most profound asset is a "low center of gravity," dynamic play from their impish point guard, and the full breadth of Luis Scola's arsenal.
Scola's adaptability has been a constant throughout the Rockets' incredible run. When Portland's double-teams demanded a spot-up shooter, Scola set up at 18 feet. When it was imperative to find Aaron Brooks some daylight, Scola pancaked Derek Fisher (occasionally vice versa) and any other pursuers. When Houston needed a big man to create his own shots down low to have any chance of survival, Scola made it happen.