LA poster boy Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 40 points to help the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Houston Rockets 111-98 and level their NBA Western Conference semi-final series at 1-1.
|Trevor Ariza, left, and Shane Battier engage in a mid-air battle [GALLO/GETTY]
Stung by their surprise 100-92 home-court loss on Monday, the top-seeded Lakers shrugged off a spirited Rockets display in the second quarter with Bryant the top player of the night in a heated contest.
Spanish forward Pau Gasol contributed 22 points and 14 rebounds while veteran guard Derek Fisher weighed in with 12 points as the Lakers took control after half-time at a packed Staples Center.
Houston forward Ron Artest was the top scorer for the visitors with 25 points, Yao Ming finished with 12 and Carl Landry came off the bench to register a career playoff-high 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Game Two of the best-of-seven series was a physical affair.
Fisher and Artest were both ejected while referee Joey Crawford also issued five technical fouls -- to Bryant, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Artest and Luis Scola.
"It's the playoffs," Bryant said. "This is what it's about. We are playing basketball.
"There's a lot of contact that takes place. If you're going to be physical, you've got to expect players to be physical back."
After shooting a disappointing 44.3 percent in the series opener on Monday, the Lakers made an electrifying start, Bryant pouring in 15 points and Gasol 13 to build a commanding 39-25 lead after the first quarter.
Houston's bench unit, with Landry setting the tone, steadily cut the deficit in the second period before Artest's two-point jumper put the visitors ahead for the first time at 49-48.
Although the resilient Rockets briefly edged four points ahead, Bryant tied the score at 57-57 with a three-pointer on the stroke of half-time.
Just as they did in the opening quarter, the fast-moving Lakers dictated the pace in the third period.
With Bryant finding the basket almost at will, Los Angeles opened up an 86-77 lead, although they had Fisher ejected for a flagrant foul on Argentine center Scola shortly before the end
of the quarter.
Game boils over
|Ron Artest, centre, negiotiates with the referee [GALLO/GETTY]
Tempers frayed during the final period and Artest, who appeared to be struck in the throat by Bryant's elbow, was ejected by Crawford after charging across the court to give the Lakers guard a verbal volley.
"I knew I was going to get a technical foul," Artest said.
"The point was, hopefully, to let the ref know that I'm pissed. I'm getting tired of this guy elbowing me.
"I know I went over there but no punches, no shoves to the face, just confrontation and I backed off, so that's a technical foul I would think. I didn't go over there with the intentions of being ejected."
Bryant disagreed with the referee's decision.
"I don't think he (Artest) should have been ejected," he said. "We were both fighting for position and shoving under the basket. I was just trying to establish position. It wasn't anything malicious at all."
Game Three is in Houston on Friday.