Unable to hang onto their double digit lead in the 3rd quarter, the Los Angeles Lakers faltered in the final quarter and lost to the Utah Jazz at Energy Solutions Arena, 88-86. Deron Williams scored the go-ahead basket with 2.2 seconds left in regulation on a fade away jumper at the elbow. A last ditch 35-ft. attempt by Kobe Bryant went long and wide right and the Jazz escaped with the narrow victory. Carlos Boozer carried them with 23 points and a tied a Jazz playoff record with 22 rebounds. The Lakers came out sluggish and cold at the start of the game, and Utah pounced at the opportunity behind the play of Boozer who collected 11 rebounds in the first period, setting a Jazz playoff record for rebounds in a quarter. While the Lakers were being overpowered on the boards, they were also equally ineffective in their shooting. The Lakers managed to score only 17 points in the first quarter while Utah posted 26.
The second quarter was salvaged by the play of Lamar Odom, (21 points, 14 rebounds), who single handedly kept the Lakers in the game. Andrew Bynum was a non-factor, plagued by early fouls, and compounding his foul trouble each time he took the floor. The Lakers managed to outscore the Jazz in the period 22-17 to cut the deficit to only 4 points, trailing at the half, 43-39. The Lakers emerged from the break much more focused and quickly stole the lead from the Jazz. Behind Odom and Pau Gasol (20 points, 9 rebounds), and an energized Bryant (18 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), the Lakers ran off on a 15-1 scoring spree to take a 10 point lead. They extended the lead to 13, but the Jazz began whittling away, pulling to 68-60 to end the 3rd quarter. Led by reserve Matt Harpring (10 points), the Jazz opened the 4th quarter hitting their first five shots and in the blink of an eye, retook the lead, 73-72. After that, the teams exchanged baskets, but the Lakers were always playing catch-up and never regained the lead. Baskets by Bryant and Gasol knotted the score, but the Jazz countered with a Boozer dunk and the final play by Williams.
The Lakers shot a miserable 36.8% from the field, were out-rebounded, 55-40, and managed only 15 assists to the Jazz’s 23. Missed free throws played a major factor in the game as they connected on only 16-26 for a horrid 61.5% Gasol managed to make only 4-10 from the charity stripe. The Jazz fared only slightly better, connecting on 44% from the field and 18-28 from the line for 64%. Despite Williams’ heroics at the end of the game, he struggled throughout, finishing with 13 points and 9 assists. Ronnie Brewer added 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists, and Kyle Korver scored 11 points off the bench, hitting two key treys in the second half. Other than Odom, the Lakers got very little support from their bench. Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown and Josh Powell combined for only 7 points on 2-12 shooting. Bynum finished his 7 minutes of action with only 4 points before supposedly fouling out in the 3rd quarter. Jordan Farmar did not play. Also missing for the third consecutive game, was Jazz C Mehmet Okur, who is still day-to-day with a strained hamstring.
For however badly the Lakers played, they managed to stay in the game with their defense. Kobe struggled on offense all night, connecting on only 5-24 shot attempts. Despite the ugly play, I’m not too upset about this loss. Sure, had we made a few more free throws, this would have been a hard fought victory instead with the Lakers taking a commanding 3-0 series lead. But I am a Lakers optimist, and I like our chances for Game 4 on Saturday. The Lakers couldn’t have played any worse and yet they still only lost by two points. I expect a bounce-back game from Kobe and hopefully, a return to normalcy with their free throw shooting. Although I would have preferred to put Kobe on Williams for the last defensive stand, Fisher played a decent defensive game on him all night. Shannon Brown looked lost tonight and that was to be expected in his first major road playoff game. The intensity was there, but the execution for one game was not. And on a night when the Lakers were at their most vulnerable, the Jazz failed to deliver any devastating message. Although the final tally indicates that the Jazz won, this game instead was gift wrapped and delivered to them.