LOS ANGELES - Desperate to salvage a split at home, the Los Angeles Lakers blitzed Houston in the first quarter. The Rockets withstood the initial charge, and stuck around for another rough-and-tumble game that turned chaotic.
This time, though, the Lakers defended their home court. Kobe Bryant scored 40 points, Pau Gasol added 22 points and 14 rebounds and Los Angeles won Game 2 111-98 on Wednesday night to even the Western Conference semifinal series.
"It was a good physical game. The intensity is elevated because a lot is at stake," Bryant said. "It's good for us."
Ron Artest, one of two players ejected in the game, scored 25 points and Carl Landry added a career playoff-high 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets, who overcame a 14-point deficit in the first half only to trail most of the second half.
Game 3 is Friday night in Houston.
Houston's Yao Ming finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds after picking up three fouls in the first half.
"We fight back," Yao said. "Everybody played very physical and try to control the tempo."
Emotions boiled over in the second half, with Derek Fisher of the Lakers and Artest getting ejected and technical fouls assessed to Bryant, Artest, Luis Scola, Luke Walton and Lamar Odom, who had 11 rebounds.
"It's the playoffs," Bryant said, "this is what it's about."
Artest was sent off the court by referee Joe Crawford with 6:57 remaining in the game after he pointed across the court at Bryant and made a gesture near his throat. Artest complained that he was elbowed in the throat by Bryant under the basket.
"We are playing basketball, there is a lot of contact taking place," Bryant said. "If you are going to be physical you have to expect to get physical back."
But Bryant didn't think Artest deserved to be ejected for what he called "good playoff basketball."
Neither did Artest.
"I knew I was going to get a technical foul. The point was to let the refs know this guy was elbowing me," he said. "I know I went over there with no punches, no shoves to the face, just a confrontation. I told him, 'You're hitting the wrong person. Don't you know you're hitting Ron Artest?' I'm not retaliating, I'm done with that."
In the final 30 seconds of the third quarter Scola, Odom and Walton all were hit with technicals after they jawed at the Lakers' end of the court.
"Lamar went to the hole and he'd come down. Scola was tugging his jersey even more to pull him down," Fisher said. "That's why Luke and I stepped in."
Moments later, Fisher was called for a flagrant foul when he collided with Scola, who was setting a pick, as the Rockets brought the ball up the court.
Scola fell to the court and Fisher received a bloody cut on his head near his right ear. Scola made both free throws and Houston retained possession.
Fisher said he wasn't retaliating for the earlier incident.
"I knew they were going to run a high screen roll and we had a foul to give," he said. "My intent was to run through the pick hard. I don't agree with an ejection, but I understand Joe's position and wanting to get the game under control. Hopefully there won't be any suspensions involved."
There was sideline drama, too. Houston's Von Wafer was escorted to the locker-room at the end of the third quarter after he was seen exchanging words with coach Rick Adelman.
"That's a team situation," Adelman said. "I'd just as soon not comment on that now."
He didn't want to discuss the second-half chaos, either.
Houston's Shane Battier had blood streaming down the left side of his face in the Rockets' Game 1 win after catching an inadvertent elbow from Sasha Vujacic.
"Right from the opening tip we wanted to be aggressive, get after it a bit," Bryant said. "We are being tested and this is fun."
In between the whistles and walkoffs, there was basketball.
The Lakers opened the fourth quarter on a 13-9 run that pushed their lead to 99-86. The Rockets closed to 99-90 on a three-pointer by Aaron Brooks, but Bryant scored five straight points and Houston didn't threaten again.
"We held the second half pretty well," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The end of the third quarter we started to regain our purpose and unfortunately the end of that quarter was an erratic ending. It took a lot of air out of the whole game."
Tied at halftime, the Lakers outscored the Rockets 16-4 to take a 73-62 lead midway through the third quarter. Los Angeles made 7 of 9 free throws down the stretch and extended its lead to 86-77 entering the final 12 minutes.
Notes: The Lakers are 25-12 all-time when splitting the first two games of any best-of-7 series. ... Odom replaced C Andrew Bynum in the Lakers' starting lineup. Bynum was scoreless with one rebound in 8 minutes.