After dominating the first three quarters of Sunday’s Second Round opener against Utah, the Lakers found themselves having to withstand a furious Jazz push in the fourth period before finally emerging with a 104-99 victory.
Having Kobe Bryant always helps in those situations.
Sure enough, last season’s Finals MVP scored 11 of L.A.’s final 15 points in the final four minutes to finish with a game-high 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting to put the Lakers up 1-0 heading into Tuesday’s Game 2.
It was the 15th consecutive victory for the Lakers over the Jazz at STAPLES Center, tracing back to January 1, 2006, and including seven straight playoff victories boosted by home sweeps in 2008 and 2009 that sent Utah home for the summer.
“We found a way to get the momentum back in the last six minutes of the game after they came out with a pretty good charge in the second half,” said Phil Jackson, who surpassed Pat Riley for career postseason victories in L.A. (103-102). “I thought that (Bryant) put (the game) on his shoulders.”
Even better for L.A., Bryant said that his various ailments, specifically a sore right knee, are feeling good.
“It’s a lot better,” he said. “It’s encouraging for me to move around and be able to do what I want to do.”
Early on, it didn’t appear that Kobe and the Lakers would need to break a sweat, as L.A. barely missed a shot in the first quarter (15-of-19) and was still shooting 60.3 percent through three periods. But with an out-of-sync second unit in to start the fourth, the home team suddenly missed their first nine shots to allow Utah to take a 93-89 lead with 4:10 remaining.
“They played very aggressively and really took the ball at us in most of the second half,” said Jackson, who credited the resurgence in part to Jazz coach Jerry Sloan’s system of team basketball.
Yet with the starters back in* the Lakers quickly recaptured control, closing the contest on a 15-6 run that featured Bryant’s scoring and some terrific defense in the paint from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Both bigs blocked shots in the final two minutes, including Gasol’s swat of Wesley Matthews with 10.7 seconds left and L.A. up five. It was the Spaniard’s fifth block of an outstanding individual game, as told by his 25 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
*Odom was in for Andrew Bynum.
“(Gasol) has the length that’s disturbing to (Utah),” said Phil Jackson. “He had a terrific game for us tonight.”
After a grueling series with perhaps the league’s most active defense in Oklahoma City, the Lakers had a far easier time getting the shots they wanted against Utah, who played primarily with 6-9 Carlos Boozer and 6-8 Paul Millsap in the paint. L.A. finished with 54 points in the lane, and controlled the glass 43-38 as Gasol, Odom (12 rebounds) and Andrew Bynum (10 boards) got the job done.
Bynum’s 24 minutes produced eight points and those 10 boards, a welcome contribution for the Lakers since the 7-footer had been listed as “questionable” with a slight tear in the meniscus of his right knee suffered in Game 6 in OKC.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” said Bryant. “He’s playing through injury, and sometimes you have to do that. That’s how you grow.”
The Lakers still feel like they can do some growing heading into Tuesday’s Game 2 at STAPLES, but until then, your numbers:
5 Game-high steals for Derek Fisher, who also scored 10 points with three rebounds and three assists in a strong overall game. He made 4-of-7 shots from the field to continue his good shooting from the OKC series.
5 Same number, but for Pau Gasol’s blocks. The Spaniard was terrific in general, adding 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting, 12 rebounds and four assists to his swats.
15 Straight wins for L.A. over the Jazz at STAPLES Center.
31 Points for Kobe Bryant, including 11 in the final four minutes, to lead all scorers. He needed only 19 attempts to get there, making 12 (63.2 percent), as his lift looked good throughout the contest.
78.9 L.A.’s shooting percentage in a ridiculous 15-of-19 first quarter. The Lakers wouldn’t slow down too much until the fourth quarter, finishing at 53.2 percent for the game compared with Utah’s 44.7 percent.