With 2.2 seconds left in Thursday evening’s Salt Lake City contest, the stat sheet was the opposite of promising for the Lakers: Kobe Bryant had missed 18 of the 23 shots he’d taken, and his team wasn’t much better in hitting a collective 37 percent from the field; Utah had a 15-rebound edge; L.A. had missed 10 free throws, and Andrew Bynum had played just seven minutes due to foul trouble.
But with Utah clinging to an 88-86 lead, Bryant rose for a potential game-winning three … How many thought the ball would swish through the net?
This time, it just didn’t happen.
Miss No. 19 for No. 24 sealed L.A.’s fate two seconds after Deron Williams had nailed a 15-foot jumper. That pull-up had broken a tie that resulted from a one-handed Pau Gasol dunk courtesy of Bryant’s pass just seconds after Carlos Boozer and Lamar Odom – also from Bryant – exchanged hoops in the heavyweight fight.
“It was a combination of two things,” said Bryant of his rare to quite rare off night. “One, I just didn’t shoot the ball well, and two, they did a good job mixing up their defenses.”
“Everybody goes through a game once in awhile like this,” added Phil Jackson. “A lot of things didn’t click for him out there tonight … But he made some big plays down the stretch, gave us a chance to win.”
While the Lakers were collectively disappointed at conceding a 13-point lead that they’d built with a fantastic third quarter run keyed by Odom (who was L.A.’s lone star with a bullet), they weren’t sounding any alarm bells, instead standing confident in a positive postgame mood that they’d see the Jazz again on Saturday.
“They say we still need to get that road win so the series will be in our favor,” said Gasol. “We took care of our two homes games and they took care of theirs. Hopefully we’ll do a better job and have a chance in the next game to get a W. Then things will definitely be in our favor.”
Indeed, will Bryant make just 20.8 percent of his shots again? Would Gasol miss six free throws? Would Andrew Bynum play only seven minutes and eight seconds due while amassing five fouls? Would Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton contribute only seven total points in limited minutes?
Confidence aside, on this night, it was only Odom’s star that shone brightly with his 21 points on 10-of-17 shooting, 14 boards (five offensive), plus a block, a steal and some terrific weakside defense. It was he who kept L.A. afloat despite 30.4 percent shooting in the first half, and who was everywhere in a 25-8 run to start the third quarter.
“Lamar kept us in the game,” said Gasol, needing few words to describe Odom’s 41-minute performance. “He was fantastic.”
Boozer was the star for the Jazz, adding an impressive 22 boards to his game high 23 points, while Williams struggled to 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting with nine assists but did hit when it counted.
Ultimately, it was a 15-4 Jazz run to open the fourth that put the home team on the victory track, at once instilling confidence and bringing what had been a subdued, if still loud, crowd into a frenzy that nearly went the other way when the last-second shot flicked off Bryant’s wrist.
It just missed.
Lakers assists in a uncharacteristically bad offensive first half that netted a 30.4 shooting percentage. They finished with a season low 15 assists.
Total bench points from Lakers not named Lamar Odom.
Total minutes for Andrew Bynum, who went 1-of-2 from the field and 2-of-2 from the line plus two boards, but added five personal fouls and two turnovers.
Turnovers for the Lakers, which any coach would take, though it couldn’t make up for the team’s poor shooting.
Free throws missed by both teams.
Rebounds by Carlos Boozer, including 17 on the defensive glass as L.A.’s shots continued to carom off the rim.
Rebounds for the Jazz, compared with L.A.’s 40, thanks in part to the Lakers’ inability to knock down shots.