Coming into Utah is never easy for the Lakers.
Add up a venom-filled crowd, a talented team and Jerry Sloan’s roughhouse brand of hoops, and equal a tough basketball game. However, on this Wednesday evening, the game was set to be even more challenging, as the road-weary purple and gold were playing the last of eight games in 14 days in eight different cities.
Signs of fatigue were eminent throughout the closely contested Salt Lake City showdown: Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant came up short on jumpers; several Lakers resorting to fouls on defense with tired feet; and the turnovers started to mount in the second half as the Jazz turned up the pressure.
But sure enough, after Utah managed to build a nine-point lead with as few as six minutes left in the game, L.A. mustered one last charge in hopes of winning its ninth-straight game heading into the All-Star break.
First came a triple from Sasha Vujacic, and then five straight points from Lamar Odom to quickly cut Utah’s lead down to four at 104-100. Next up? Mamba. Kobe’s reserve tank featured a drawn foul and two free throws (two-point game with three minutes left) before he dropping the dagger triple that’s been wielded so often this season, putting L.A. up for the first time in the quarter at 105-104.
But on this night, the Jazz managed to slide the knife back out of their collective heart, most notably in the form of Mehmet Okur, who hit a three of his own with 43 seconds left that would ultimately spell L.A.’s doom.
The Lakers would have one last chance to tie after Deron Williams – who was fantastic with 31 points and 11 assists – missed the back end of the 1-and-1 at the charity stripe, but Derek Fisher couldn’t find the range on consecutive three-point attempts. As it were, the Lakers finally lost a road game but still boasted a league-best 42-10 record heading into the All-Star break.
After the game, Phil Jackson refused to blame fatigue for the loss, instead citing the plethora of open looks afforded to Utah and a failure to convert down the stretch.
But still, it’s hard to argue that Pau Gasol’s 43-minutes-per-game average since Andrew Bynum went down didn’t finally catch up with him (16 points, three rebounds, two assists), or that Bryant’s legs weren’t a bit weary as he needed 33 shots for his 37 points. One player whose legs looked just fine was Lamar Odom, who went for 19 rebounds and 19 points, plus two crucial blocks in L.A.’s fourth quarter push. The 19 boards came a game after he grabbed 18 and two games after he pulled down 17 balls off the glass. In fact, Odom was so dominant on the glass that not one of his teammates managed more than four boards for himself.
Alas, the Lakers not named Bryant or Gasol – both of whom will play in Sunday’s All-Star game – will have five days off before Tuesday’s contest against Atlanta back in Los Angeles.
A few numbers:
Field goal percentage from Deron Williams in a terrific individual effort. Kobe’s Olympic teammate scored 31 points with 11 assists to lead his team to its 30th win.
Points in the paint for L.A., which would have looked even better had Utah not managed 52 of their own.
Field goal percentage by the Jazz, who truly played their best game in weeks. Of course, that’s what L.A.’s been used to from seemingly each and every opponent.
Free throws attempted by the Jazz, compared with 26 for the Lakers. Utah did miss 12 of those shots to finish at only 67.6 percent, compared with 76.9 for L.A.
Odom’s season-high rebounding total backed up games of 17 and 18 rebounds. That’s a lot. Seven of his boards came on the offensive end.
Jazz players in double figures. Every starter scored at least 10 points and committed at least three fouls.
Biggest lead of the entire ball game for a Lakers squad that constantly had to fight back from varying deficits.