Building a 22-point lead late into the third quarter, the Los Angeles Lakers withstood a furious rally by the Utah Jazz and clinched their first round series at Staples Center, 107-96. Kobe Bryant led the way for the victorious Lakers, tallying 31 points, 4 assists and 4 steals. His play in the middle quarters was vintage Kobe, as he connected on difficult shot after shot. He drained a long distance three pointer in the face of Andrei Kirilenko from well beyond the arc, then assisted on a jump pass to a cutting Pau Gasol (17 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists), for an alley oop jam. Staples Center exploded in celebration as the Lakers appeared clearly on their way to the second round. Lamar Odom, (26 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocked shots), performed exceptionally well, playing aggressive defense and exploding to the basket, exploiting the weak interior defense of the Jazz. Hobbled by an ankle injury, Trevor Ariza, (12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocked shots), showed no ill effects at all, playing his typical all-out, hustling defense and sinking 2-4 treys. Derek Fisher, (9 points, 3 assists), helped limit Deron Williams, (12 points, 6 assists), and also forced him into 4 costly turnovers. Carlos Boozer, (10 points, 9 rebounds), was a non-factor after having posted consecutive 20+ point games.
But it was the play of Utah’s reserves in the 4th quarter which made the game interesting. Led by Paul Milsap, (16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), and seldom used PG Ronnie Price, (8 points, 5 assists), the Jazz staged a final rally against another large Lakers lead. Utah’s reserves chipped away at the lead and managed to cut it down to 6 points when Kyle Korver connected on a trey from the corner with 3:43 left to play. But that would be as close as they would get, as Phil Jackson reinserted his starters and the Jazz were forced to foul. Odom culminated the night with a slam off a Bryant feed and the Lakers were celebrating with only :11 ticks on the clock. Missing Luke Walton, (partially torn deltoid ligament in his left foot), the Lakers bench was outscored by the Jazz reserves, 40-12. But the Lakers beat the Jazz on the boards, 50-43, rejected 8 shots, and held the Jazz to 40.2% from the field. Andrew Bynum, again playing limited minutes, contributed 2 points, 5 rebounds and 1 blocked shot in 12 minutes of action, and Shannon Brown added 2 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists.
The Lakers now wait for the outcome of the Houston/Portland match-up with the Rockets holding a 3-1 series lead. In closing out the Jazz, Utah now faces an uncertain future with free agents, Milsap, Mehmet Okur, Korver and Boozer all looking for lucrative offers. For his part tonight, coach Jerry Sloan was ejected for arguing over non-calls late in the game. The play was physical in the 4th quarter, and the missed calls went both ways. But the large lead that the Lakers built up was big enough to hold off the Jazz and end the series. Jazz broadcaster and former Lakers great, “Hot-Rod” Hundley, called his final game tonight, retiring after 42 seasons behind the microphone.