Lakers 108, Jazz 94: Postgame 4

Kobe BryantTwo days ago, Kobe Bryant made just 5-of-24 shots in L.A.’s last-second 88-86 loss, an entirely out-of-character game for last season’s MVP.

But he’s still Kobe Bryant, and if you didn’t think he’d bounce back in a big way … Well … You’re not too familiar with how Kobe rolls.

It wasn’t just his 16-of-23 (70 percent*) shooting for 38 points, but the business-like way in which he dropped contested jumper after contested jumper, inspiring a confidence in his teammates that carried over to the defensive end and sparked a double-digit lead in the first half that would eventually swell over 20 points early in the fourth quarter.
*Until he missed a end-of-clock heaved triple in the final minute.

Had you asked any Laker prior to Game 3 what he was looking for in Utah, “Winning both games” would have been the answer. But in reality, getting 1-of-2 against a tough team in a tougher arena heading into a potential close out Game 5 at STAPLES Center was what really mattered. Thanks to Kobe, plus myriad contributions from a slew of other Lakers, the West’s best will have a chance to close out its first round opponent on its own terms.

Here’s how they got it done:

- Kobe.
- Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol controlled the defensive glass, combining for 25 total rebounds, only four of which were offensive, and added a collective 23 points, seven assists and three blocks.
- The bench contribution was outstanding: Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Shannon Brown combined for 28 points, nine boards, five assists and five steals with nary a mistake. That trio was particularly effective in their second half stint towards the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth.
- L.A. was “helping the helper” defensively, rotating an extra man over to the strong side of the court, far better than it had in Game 3.
- Derek Fisher played solid defense on the extremely tough-to-guard Deron Williams, and added 12 points and four assists at the other end for L.A.
- Trevor Ariza battled through a sprained ankle he suffered before the game and aggravated in the first quarter to contribute four boards, two assists and a key fourth quarter steal and resulting three-pointer with 5:45 remaining that made the score 103-84, negating back-to-back scores by Carlos Boozer that had the Utah fans thinking about rising from their slumber.

Perhaps the only negative for L.A. was that due in part to matchup problems with the smallish Jazz (who often played Andrei Kirilenko or Matt Harpring at the four), Andrew Bynum played only seven minutes, totaling two points and a rebound.

Yet and still, only one number tonight for a Lakers team that built and protected a big lead in statement fashion for the first time in a while:

It was all about he who wore that jersey number.