Los Angeles The playoffs arrived, and the Los Angeles Lakers hardly looked like championship material.
But Shaquille O'Neal was in the right place to bail them out -- barely in time.
O'Neal's dunk off an airball by Kobe Bryant with 17.4 seconds remaining led the Lakers to a 72-71 victory over Houston late Saturday night.
"That game was misery for us out there," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I don't know if it was their defense or our shooting or a combination of both. We struggled, in the second half, particularly."
With the Rockets leading by one point and the shot clock running down, Bryant tried a three-pointer despite having two defenders on him and missed everything.
But O'Neal snatched the ball out of the air and rammed it into the basket while being fouled by Yao Ming, who committed his sixth personal.
"I just wanted to get it up quick and go strong," O'Neal said.
O'Neal missed the free throw -- his 10th failure in 14 attempts from the foul line -- and the Rockets got the rebound and called timeout. Steve Francis drove around two defenders but ran into O'Neal, forcing him to pass the ball to Jim Jackson in the corner.
Jackson's open three-pointer hit the rim and bounced away as time ran out.
"Great look. When I let it go, I thought it was in," he said.
Game 2 will be tonight at Staples Center before the best-of-seven series moves to Houston for the third and fourth games.
Francis led the Rockets with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists.