Lakers Cruise to Victory Over the Jazz and Take a 1-0 Series Lead

April 20, 2009

Led by Kobe Bryant's 24 points and 8 assists, The Los Angeles Lakers successfully defended their home court on Sunday with a 113-100 victory over the Utah Jazz. The Lakers' recipe for success consisted of solid defense, numerous fast break buckets, and balanced scoring, all of which was used to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Lakers exploded to an early lead and never looked back, as they held a 30-19 double-digit advantage at the end of the first quarter.

Swingman Trevor Ariza was instrumental in that good start, scoring 10 points in the quarter alone. Ariza earned those points in a versatile manner, as he nailed two early treys from deep, and then later threw down a dunk in transition. He would eventually finish with 21 points for the game. More importantly, all of those points would come within the normal flow of the offense.

In the second quarter, the Lakers doubled their lead, thanks in part to Kobe Bryant's offensive explosion in the final four minutes of the half.

Bryant got started by nailing a 20-foot J to extend the Los Angeles' lead 48-32. On LA's next possession, the team cleared out the side and let him iso from the left wing. Bryant immediately burned his man with a driving "and 1" finish.

Bryant later hit a spinning 15-footer at the elbow, followed by a beautiful baseline fallaway from the right block. On the final possession of the half, #24 drove into the Utah D, only to find a wide open Luke Walton on the perimeter. Kobe fed the open Walton, who promptly hit a trey, giving the Lakers a 62-40 halftime lead. The Lakers finished the half shooting 66% from the field.

After such a dominant first half, the Lakers emerged from their halftime locker room somewhat unfocused.

The Jazz immediately produced a 9-0 run to start the third quarter, cutting the lead to 62-49. Utah was able to stay within striking distance throughout the quarter primarily by getting to the foul line. In particular, role player Jarron Collins went to the charity stripe 6 times in the quarter -- an unexpected offensive bonus for the Jazz. Utah would outscore the Lakers 33-24 in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Utah continued to attack, cutting the deficit to 9 points on several occasions. However, The Closer responded to each threat with a timely hoop.

When an Andrei Kirilenko trey cut the Laker lead to 98-89, Bryant responded with back-to-back buckets to put Los Angeles up 102-89.

Later, when Utah cut the Laker lead to 107-98 with under two minutes remaining, Bryant delivered again with an emphatic drive and dunk on Paul Millsap. Bryant was fouled on the play, and converted his free throw for a 110-98 lead. The Jazz would get no closer.

Despite their lack of focus through 48 minutes, the Lakers played solid defense overall. Los Angeles blocked 9 shots and held Utah to 39% shooting. Four of those blocks came from big man Pau Gasol.

Gasol had another efficiently excellent performance, as he tallied 9 boards and 20 points on 7-11 shooting. Often the Lakers would run their offense through Gasol in the low post, and he delivered by repeatedly hitting shots over the top of the shorter Utah bigs.

The Lakers shot an outstanding 55% for the game, as their solid defense led to many early offense layups in transition.

Also important in the victory was the play of the Los Angeles bench. With Andrew Bynum's return to the lineup, the Lakers had the luxury of bringing the versatile Lamar Odom off the pine. Odom gave the team a big lift in his Sixth Man role with a productive 13-point, 8-board performance in 33 minutes.

Los Angeles also received an unexpected bonus with the solid play of athletic reserve Shannon Brown. Brown hit all three of his attempts from three-point land, finishing with 9 points and 3 assists on the day.

For Utah, there were some positive aspects to their performance that the team could draw on for Game 2.

One such bright spot was the play of Utah point guard Deron Williams, who finished with 16 points and 17 assists. Williams was at his most effective creating in transition and on pick and roll plays.

The primary beneficiary of Williams' creativity was Carlos Boozer. Boozer finished with a "quiet" 27 points and 9 rebounds, most of it coming from 18-foot jumpers off kick out feeds from Williams.

Utah also enjoyed a 46-38 advantage on the glass. In particular, an active Paul Millsap came off the bench to nab 7 offensive boards and give the Jazz numerous second chance opportunities.

And finally, there is the health of center Mehmut Okur, who was out with a bad hamstring. If Okur were to return, his 6'11" frame would not only provide Utah with length on their defensive interior, but also would give the Jazz a sweet, floor-spacing outside stroke on the offensive end.

The Jazz are going to need him. Game 2 awaits on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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