Utah Climbs Back Into Series With Win Over Los Angeles

April 24, 2009

Inspired by their loud home crowd, the Utah Jazz defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 88-86 Thursday night on Deron Williams' last minute jumper, narrowing their series deficit to 2-1. Utah was led by Carlos Boozer's 23 points and 22 rebounds.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's first adjustment of the game was to insert forward Andrei Kirilenko into the starting lineup. The move paid immediate dividends, as Kirilenko made several nice cuts to the hoop for first quarter scoring opportunities. At the end of one quarter, Utah was up 26-17.

Throughout the game, Utah showed an improved commitment to defense, as they held the Lakers to 37% shooting. In fact, Kobe Bryant was held scoreless until the 5:10 mark of the second quarter. As a result, the Lakers found themselves down 43-39 at the half.

In the third quarter, LA got serious and stormed out of the locker room with a 25-8 run. Bryant scored three buckets during the period, and assisted on several others. In addition, the Lakers ratcheted up their defensive efforts, forcing the Jazz into several bad shots.

When Boozer got his fourth foul with 2:36 left in the third quarter and the Lakers up 64-52, it appeared that Los Angeles would be cruising to another victory. However, Jazz reserves Kyle Korver and Matt Harpring began hitting their shots and the Laker lead was trimmed to 68-60 at the end of three.

In the fourth quarter, Korver and Harpring continued their solid play, and the Jazz eventually recaptured the lead. When Boozer returned at the 5:23 mark of the fourth, the score was tied at 76, and it became anyone's game at that point.

The final 3 minutes of the contest proved exciting, as both teams answered one clutch bucket with a key play of their own. With the score tied at 86, Utah's Deron Williams nailed a midrange fallaway jumper over Derek Fisher with 2.2 seconds remaining to take an 88-86 lead. LA then looked to The Closer for an answer, but his 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer missed wide right.

For the Lakers, the game constituted a blown opportunity to take a commanding lead in the series, especially with injured Utah center Mehmet Okur still out of the lineup.

The Lakers had established control of the game in the third quarter thanks to some outstanding defense, but then seemed to abandon their defensive focus down the stretch. That inability to play 48 full minutes with the proper intensity has raised some concerns about whether Los Angeles has the mental toughness needed to win a title.

The old playoff adage that role players do not perform well on the road, also proved true once more in Game 3, as Laker reserves Luke Walton, Shannon Brown, and Sasha Vujacic all were non-factors. Starter Trevor Ariza also struggled, shooting 3-9 for the game.

Worse yet, some of the Laker stars failed to deliver, as Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant both played poorly. Bynum picked up 5 quick fouls, limiting his playing time to a mere 7 minutes. His absence partially contributed to Utah's dominant 55-40 advantage on the boards.

Meanwhile, Kobe struggled with his shooting the entire night. He went 1-10 in the first half, and finished the game shooting an ugly 5-24 (18 points). The most troubling aspect of his performance was that he was content to passively jack up midrange fallaway jumpers all game. When he caught the ball on the block, Bryant rarely made an aggressive move into the paint. When he received the ball on the perimeter, more often than not it resulted in another jumper.

In crunch time, Bryant finally got more aggressive, as his drives to the rack resulted in nice assists to Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. However, those types of plays should have been occurring much earlier in the night.

The lone bright spot for LA was Lamar Odom. Odom came through with 21 points and 14 boards, on an efficient 10-17 shooting. He was aggressive throughout the game, and moved well without the ball for several cutting layups in the lane.

As for Utah's Boozer, he was the best player on the floor in Game 3.

For the first two games of the series, Boozer put up decent numbers, but looked like a complementary catch-and-shoot guy who lacked the ability to impose his will on the game.

Everything changed for Boozer in Game 3, as Utah shifted its approach and began running its offense through him in the low post. Boozer delivered with several buckets, including an impressive spin and lefty dunk on Pau Gasol.

Still, until Utah can demonstrate improved play on the road, Game 3 will likely have little impact on the series overall. Moreover, it could provide the Lakers with the wake-up call that they have been looking for all year. Expect Kobe Bryant to improve his play, and expect a Game 4 Laker victory on Saturday.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

1 comment:

  1. Lakers in 5! Kobe will deliver tonight! He owns AK47 & Brewer.


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