It wasn’t as easy as it had appeared to be, but after 48 more minutes on a playoff Tuesday night at STAPLES Center, L.A. had its second win.
Three different Lakers made respectively key plays in the final 1:20 of action as the home team staved off a late Jazz charge to take a 2-0 lead with the series bound for Salt Lake City on Thursday.
First came two swats from Pau Gasol, protecting L.A.’s goal as the Jazz tried to cut a five-point lead to three. Next, a tough baseline jumper from – you guessed it – Kobe Bryant to create some breathing room.
Then came the dagger, a three-pointer from the suddenly on-fire Trevor Ariza, who nailed the proverbial coffin shut on his fifth make in six attempts two days removed from his playoff career high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Both Ariza and Bryant added nine assists to an effort that demanded but one thing.
“That’s a good win,” said Phil Jackson. “It’s hard to beat a team three times in succession, and that was a trial out there for us tonight.”
It hadn’t appeared that the Lakers would need to make any clutch plays down the stretch, as the purple and gold exploded for 41 first quarter points and maintained a double-digit lead for most of the game. Indeed, at times brilliant offensively, L.A. made 18-of-21 shots to start the game – including 12 in a row – with a smattering of layups, jumpers and open threes.
“As an offensive display, not always great ball handling but a lot of great shooting and scoring out there tonight,” said Jackson of a team that shot 60 percent yet turned the ball over 21 times.
The offense was coming so easily for the purple and gold that its defense was, at times, less effective. Utah took advantage to shoot 60 percent in the first half and nearly 50 percent for the game, cutting the lead to as few as three with 3:17 to go before L.A. shut the door.
And the players? Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom each made their first four shots of the game, and Bryant led the way with 26 points for a Lakers’ team that once again got a marked contribution from Shannon Brown, who scored 12 points with two assists in 16 minutes. Odom was fantastic with 19 points (tying a Lakers’ bench player high) on 8-of-9 shooting (he missed only his last three) while Gasol went for 22 points and six boards in addition to those crucial blocks.
Deron Williams showed why he’s arguably the league’s best point guard, scoring 35 points on 12-of-23 shooting, which came as no surprise since the Lakers’ bigs were more committed to sticking with their men and not allowing any offensive rebounds. In other words, L.A. paid a bit less attention to Williams, almost daring him to score, and he thus didn’t get as much help as he had from his friends in game one. Carlos Boozer, for one, had just six points in the second half to finish with 20 after leading all scorers with 27 in game one, and Williams finished with eight dimes fewer than he had on Sunday (17).
The Lakers, on the other hand, spread the ball around with ease, notching 33 assists on 45 field goals as seven players scored in double digits, including each starter.
After the game, Phil Jackson acknowledged how difficult it will be for L.A. to play in the hostile Salt Lake, but also looked forward to seeing how his team responds in a game where ball control will be more a point of emphasis.
We’ll see in less than 48 hours, but until then, some numbers:
Times Utah led in the game.
Straight shots made … and missed … by Andrew Bynum, who was unstoppable in the first quarter but cooled off thereafter. He finished with 10 points, four boards, two assists and a game-high four blocks in 31 minutes.
Threes made by the Lakers on 20 attempts (55 percent), including three each from Trevor Ariza and Derek Fisher and two each from Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. Kobe Bryant added the other, while Deron Williams had six himself for the Jazz.
Free throws attempted by the Jazz, who shot 49 from the charity stripe in the regular season finale and 35 in L.A.’s 113-100 victory on Sunday.
Combined points from super subs Lamar Odom (19) and Shannon Brown (12), who shot a collective 12-of-15 from the field. It was a career playoff high for Brown, who’s shown no visible qualms about stepping up in big moments despite playing little after a midseason trade with Charlotte.
Points in the paint from the Lakers to Utah’s 34.
Shooting percentage for L.A. in the first quarter on 18-of-21 that netted 41 points.