The Lakers won 65 games in the regular season … That’s pretty good.
Yet in some ways, L.A. seemed to be holding something back in the reserve tank, prompting the more skeptical of Lakers fans and critics alike to wonder what exactly the purple and gold would bring into the playoffs.
Surely bursting to a 62-40 lead on a blistering 65.7 percent from the field in the first half was a good way to start, and while the plucky Jerry Sloan-coached Jazz (predictably) fought back in the second half, the visitors ultimately would never get closer than nine points as the Lakers took a 1-0 series lead.
“We had a very difficult time, we gave up 62 points in the first half and it’s virtually impossible to try and beat this team giving them that kind of edge,” said Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan. “But we stayed in our offense and executed. I felt like we were at least able to try and make them play us a little more.”
Indeed, Phil Jackson wasn’t exactly pleased with L.A.’s second half performance – not as Utah grabbed 11 offensive rebounds and went to the foul line 28 times – yet even so, the bottom line was that the Lakers were the better team. Utah, who was missing key starting center Mehmet Okur to a hamstring strain, didn’t once lead after Trevor Ariza’s back-to-back threes early in the first quarter.
L.A. was paced by 24 points and eight assists from Kobe Bryant, while Ariza gave L.A. a somewhat unexpected boost highlighted by 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point land. Fittingly, it was Bryant’s emphatic and-1 dunk and Ariza’s final-minute three pointer that ultimately nailed Utah’s coffin.
Pau Gasol was characteristically efficient in making 7-of-11 shots primarily against the shorter Carlos Boozer for 20 points with nine boards before fouling out later in the fourth, while Lamar Odom put up 13 points, eight boards and two blocks in 34 minutes off the bench. Andrew Bynum was plagued by foul trouble and played for just 20 minutes en route to seven points and three boards, but his defensive presence was felt particularly in the first half.
“It wasn’t our best game and our most complete game but still, it’s a pretty good win against a really good team,” said Gasol. “And that’s the way you want to start.”
The Lakers also received a very tangible bench boost from Shannon Brown, who nailed all three of his three-point attempts and added three assists in 21 minutes. Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar all chipped in positively, while Josh Powell managed six points and two boards in just four minutes.
“He works extremely hard, as all our players do,” said Bryant of Brown. “He’s in the gym early; he’s working on his shot. When I see that it makes it even more easier for me to trust him in a game situation.”
For the Jazz, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer played solid games, as the point guard amassed 17 points and 16 assists while the forward went for a game high 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting, but it simply wasn’t enough.
One down, and 15 to go for a Lakers’ team determined to stop at nothing short of a championship.
Fewer assists than the entire Lakers team for Deron Williams, who’s good at basketball but struggled with his shot (4-of-14).
Time on the clock in the first quarter when Trevor Ariza nailed his second three, putting the Lakers up 8-6. The Jazz would never reclaim the lead.
Career high playoff point total for Ariza.
Points in the paint for the Lakers, who added 19 fastbreak points to 44 and 10, respectively, for the Jazz.
Lakers shooting percentage in an outstanding first half, including 5-of-9 from three, 5-of-7 from Trevor Ariza and Kobe Bryant and 4-of-4 from Pau Gasol.
Percent shooting from Shannon Brown from the three-point line. The first Laker off the bench, Brown nailed all three of his three-point attempts.