HOUSTON -- The Los Angeles Lakers found themselves so frustrated by the officiating in the second half of Thursday's 126-111 loss to the Houston Rockets that several players,LeBron James and Lonzo Ball among them, purposely held their hands behind their backs on a series of defensive possessions to make a point to the referees.
"Just trying to defend without fouling," said James, who briefly locked his hands behind his body on a Rockets possession in the third quarter. "That's a point of emphasis any time you play Houston. They got guys that can sell calls really good --Chris [Paul] and James [Harden]-- so you got to try to keep your hands out of the cookie jar."
The Rockets were called for more fouls than the Lakers overall (24-21), but Houston took more free throws (32-27), led by Harden's 18-for-19 night and Paul's 5-for-6 showing from the stripe. In the teams' previous meeting, a 124-115 Houston win on Oct. 20, Harden went 11-for-15 on free throws and Paul went 7-for-9.
Harden came into the game ranked second in the league with 9.4 free throw attempts per game, and he doubled that output against the Lakers en route to a 50-point triple-double, adding 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
"You can't touch them," Ball said, expressing extra indignation at the two times Josh Hart was called for a foul while Harden was attempting a 3-pointer.
"I was just trying not to foul today," he continued. "They were calling it tight today, so I was just trying to get my hands out of there. ... It's very tough staying in front of [Harden] with your hands like that."
Lakers coach Luke Walton and Kyle Kuzma were both called for technical fouls on the night, and Walton admitted his team lost its cool.
"Whether I was frustrated with some calls, or Harden making some shots, I thought we could've done a better job of keeping our composure as a group," Walton said. "I think that's a great learning experience for us as we try to prep for becoming a type of team that can win toward the end of the year. We have to be able to succeed in tough environments and when things aren't going in our favor. And the only way to learn how to do that is to go through it. And I thought tonight was an example that we could've done things better."
Walton said it was not part of his game plan to have his players conceal their arms on the defensive end.
"How hard is it to play defense like that? It's tough," Walton said. "I think they were just trying to make a point: 'We're not using our arms here. Stop calling fouls.' But we can't, whether we get frustrated or not, we can't let that affect us going under screens or us not communicating ... which I thought we could've done a better job of tonight."
Kuzma noted that he didn't see his 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds remaining in the third quarter go in because he was "knocked down." No foul was called, prompting Walton to get on the officials and earn his tech.
To Kuzma, the discrepancy was obvious.
"To defend them, you just can't touch them," Kuzma said. "So just trying not to touch them."
And what about the no-call when he got knocked down?
"To save my money, I don't know about that one," he said. "It's going to happen, especially on the road. My college coach always used to say, especially on road games, you're playing 16,000-18,000 on 15. So it's going to happen on the road."
L.A. trailed Houston 90-88 heading into the fourth quarter and was outscored 36-23 in the final frame. Harden went 5-for-5 from the line in the fourth, while the Lakers attempted zero free throws as a team.