Sunday, May 2, 2010
Lakers win series opener against Jazz
LOS ANGELES -- While the Los Angeles Lakers' reserves haplessly gave away the lead early in the fourth quarter, the Utah Jazz celebrated every basket with increasing glee, spilling off their bench in anticipation of an upset.
Even the Hollywood crowd was tense, with many fans anxiously kneading or waving the giveaway white T-shirts they apparently were too cool to wear.
"It was tough," Kobe Bryant said. "But when it got really tough for me, I just checked myself in."
A few minutes after Bryant checked in, the Jazz were checkmated in these familiar rivals' second-round opener.
Bryant scored 11 of his 31 points in the final four minutes, and the Lakers blew a fourth-quarter lead before rallying for a 104-99 victory Sunday.
Pau Gasol had 25 points and 12 rebounds while blocking five shots for the top-seeded Lakers, whose backups were nearly run off the court by the fired-up Jazz before Bryant seized control.
Last season's NBA Finals MVP coolly scored seven consecutive points to erase Utah's four-point lead, followed by a dynamic slice through the lane for a layup with 22.6 seconds left. Los Angeles also did it with defense, holding the Jazz to one field goal in the final 4:10.
"We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole and let them gain all the momentum," Bryant said. "At that point, you've just got to buckle down."
Los Angeles will host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series Tuesday night. The clubs are meeting in the postseason for the third consecutive year after the Lakers ended Utah's last two seasons, including a first-round victory in 2009.
Perhaps that familiarity was one reason the Lakers again had trouble getting too excited for this one -- a mood matched by the home crowd.
After the Lakers' consecutive first-round losses to Oklahoma City inspired a crackling atmosphere for their blowout victory in Game 5 last week, Staples Center reverted to its usual relaxed state. Los Angeles handed out thousands of white shirts in an apparent attempt at a whiteout crowd to go with the Lakers' Sunday white uniforms, but the majority of fans didn't bother to actually wear them.
Lakers fans get excited about titles, not T-shirts -- and despite an inconsistent regular season and a playoff run that hasn't dazzled anybody to date, their team appears capable of contending for its 16th crown.
"We want to make sure we work and we put more effort into keeping leads and building on leads and stretching the games out," Gasol said. "It's always a little bit frustrating when you lose leads and you're on the bench and you can't do anything. It happens hopefully not very often, but we got stagnant. Guys weren't sharp out there."
Deron Williams scored 24 points for fifth-seeded Utah, which went 3:51 without a field goal after taking a 93-89 lead. Utah has lost 15 straight to the Lakers at Staples Center, including seven playoff games.
"We got a little rattled coming down the stretch -- put up some shots, they just didn't fall," said Paul Millsap, who scored eight of his 16 points early in the fourth quarter. "We're not playing to get close. We're playing to win the game."
Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 12 rebounds, while C.J. Miles added 16 points, including several difficult baskets in the fourth quarter while the Jazz surged ahead with a 12-1 run. But the Lakers had plenty of time to surge back, leaving Utah again lamenting its finishing skills.
"It is kind of repetitive," said Williams, who didn't appear slowed by his injured elbow. "We had a chance to win this game, but we couldn't make the plays down the stretch. Kobe made some unbelievable shots, and that was pretty much it."
Both teams finished their first-round series roughly 36 hours earlier, with the Lakers winning at Oklahoma City on Gasol's last-second tip-in shortly before Utah held off Denver.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum started and played 24 minutes after discovering a small tear in the meniscus of his right knee Saturday. The 7-footer wore a large brace on his knee, but said it didn't limit him much while collecting eight points and 10 rebounds
Utah also has pronounced injury problems. With Andrei Kirilenko still sidelined with a strained left calf and center Mehmet Okur out for the postseason, the Jazz struggled to guard the Lakers inside when Los Angeles forced the ball down low.
Williams occasionally was guarded by Ron Artest, whose defense on NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant was praised in the Lakers' first-round win. Williams scored 17 points in the first half, but went just 2 for 7 after halftime.