For the eighth time in their last nine tries, the Lakers closed out a playoff series with a chance to advance on the line, looking a lot like the defending champions in taking apart the Utah Jazz 111-96 to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight season.
Leading the way were the team’s two All-Stars: Kobe Bryant scored 32 points – his fifth straight 30-point playoff game – and Pau Gasol posted a season-high 33-point, 14-rebound double-double, to spearhead an imposing all-around team effort that delivered the team’s sixth straight playoff victory.
“They have about everything you want,” said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. “They have experience (in big games), they have guys that are long and big, they have a lot of guys that can pass the ball. Every shot you get is tough. They make you earn it. That’s why they won a championship.”
Lamar Odom added 10 points and five rebounds, Shannon Brown 12 points (including two fourth quarter threes) and three boards, Derek Fisher 10 points with three steals, Andrew Bynum six points and seven boards and Ron Artest five points and three assists for L.A.
Fittingly, it was Gasol and Bryant who combined for 19 of L.A.’s final 25 points to seal the deal.
“Pau had a really terrific game and Kobe was persistent and aggressive,” said Phil Jackson. “(Utah) really came out and attacked us, we just had to wall the ball off and we got a couple of stops that changed the tide.”
While the game ebbed and flowed, the Lakers controlled tempo throughout.
Utah came out of the gates charging hard to go up 23-21, but L.A answered with a 22-6 run to open the game up early in a second quarter, building its lead to as many as 22 points. The Jazz, however, refused to relent, cutting L.A.’s lead to just five with a furious third quarter run in the only portion of the game Phil Jackson didn’t like.
“We had one of our better games tonight,” Jackson said. “They came out in the third quarter and got into it. (I was) a little disappointed with how we handled it, but we recovered and came back at the end of that quarter and were able to finish the game the right way.”
That recovery started with a 10-2 run to close the third, changing a 70-65 lead into an 80-67 margin, and the Jazz would get no closer than 10 for the rest of the game.
Afterwards, Jackson described how the Lakers were able to steadily build themselves back into the team that won the 2009 title after a sluggish finish to the regular season.
“I think it’s the experience of our team,” he concluded. “This is our third year of going deep in the playoffs, and these guys know you have to save the best for last.”
Until the Western Conference Finals – which begin on Monday, May 17 at STAPLES Center – here are your numbers:
3 Straight trips to the Western Conference Finals for the Lakers, thanks to a 4-2 series win over Oklahoma City and 4-0 sweep of Utah.
5 Straight games of at least 30 points for Kobe Bryant, who scored 32 against the Jazz on 11-of-23 shooting alongside four assists and three boards.
6 Straight wins for the Lakers, from Game 5 against Oklahoma City onward.
6 Turnovers for the Lakers in an impressive display of ball control. They turned Utah over 13 times, meanwhile.
33 Season-high point total for Pau Gasol, who was terrific throughout in making 12-of-18 shots not to mention a game-high tying 14 rebounds (Carlos Boozer) and two blocks.