HOUSTON – The Houston Rockets came up with one more stunning victory to set up a final showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers. Aaron Brooks scored 26 points, Luis Scola added 24 points and 12 rebounds, and the scrappy, undermanned Rockets pushed the top-seeded Lakers to the brink in their Western Conference semifinal series with a 95-80 win in Game 6 on Thursday night.
Reserve Carl Landry scored 15 as the Rockets built another huge lead in the first half, then fought off a Lakers rally to force Game 7 on Sunday at the Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant scored 32 and Pau Gasol added 14 for Los Angeles, which lost for only the third time in the last 18 games when it has a chance to close out a series.
The Lakers have one more opportunity to finish off Houston, but they probably didn't expect to need it, three games after Yao Ming exited the series with a broken left foot.
"We still have no chance," Brooks said with a huge smile. "We'll keep playing, though."
The winner will play the Denver Nuggets, who finished off Dallas on Wednesday night and now have a few extra days to rest.
Ron Artest pumped his fist and Scola embraced Brooks near midcourt as the final buzzer sounded and the Lakers walked off the court with their heads down.
Los Angeles won Game 5 by 40 points, matching Houston's worst playoff loss.
The Rockets came out dominant instead of demoralized on Thursday night. They put together a near carbon copy of the first half of Game 4, when they seemed to hit every open shot, smothered the Lakers on defense and built an 18-point halftime lead.
Bryant missed a halfcourt shot at the halftime buzzer in this one and angrily shook his head as he stormed off the court. The Rockets led 52-36 at the break — one basket shy of the halftime score in Game 4.
On Sunday, Houston stretched its lead to 29 and cruised to a 99-87 win. This time, the Lakers made a game of it, opening the second half with a 16-2 spurt.
But Landry converted a three-point play to break the Lakers' momentum and Brooks sank a 3-pointer to help Houston rebuild its lead.
The Rockets hit their last eight shots in the third quarter and took a 75-65 lead to the fourth. Landry drove down the lane for a one-handed dunk with 6:56 left to put Houston up 81-71 and Bryant checked in after a long rest.
But Bryant missed four of his next six shots and Brooks scored eight points over the next five minutes to secure another surprise over the Western Conference's top seed.
"We got active again against Kobe. He's going to make some shots. We toughed it out in the fourth quarter," Brooks said.
The Lakers outrebounded Houston 45-39, but the Rockets scored 40 points in the paint and held Los Angeles to 36 percent shooting (30-for-84). The Lakers went only 5-for-23 from 3-point range.
Houston opened the game with a 17-1 burst, electrifying another red-clad capacity crowd at the Toyota Center.
Bryant made the Lakers' first field goal near the 6-minute mark, but Scola put in another short jumper to make it 19-3 — one point better than Houston's opening run in Game 4.
Artest got a nice pass from Chuck Hayes and muscled inside for a layup to make it 21-3. The Lakers missed 14 of 20 shots in the quarter and trailed 27-15.
Shane Battier and Artest sank 3-pointers early in the second quarter, another good sign for Houston. The Rockets made 10 3-pointers in their Game 4 victory, but only five in Game 5.
Von Wafer, averaging only 6.6 points in the series, sank a 3 with 5:51 left in the half to put Houston ahead 42-25 and force Lakers coach Phil Jackson to use a timeout.
But Houston stayed in control and Bryant's frustration boiled over near the 2-minute mark.
With Artest blanketing him near midcourt, Bryant appeared to shove Artest and earned a technical foul. The temperamental Artest, ejected from Games 2 and 3, ran away to avoid a confrontation and Brooks sank the free throw for a 47-31 Houston lead.
Notes:@ The Rockets have won 11 of their last 12 home games. ... The team winning after the first quarter has won all 12 of Houston's postseason games. ... Artest missed Thursday morning's shootaround with an illness, but Houston coach Rick Adelman said an hour before the game that Artest felt fine. ... The Lakers are 30-4 all-time in seven-game series when they have a 3-2 lead.