Can Utah Sustain Second Half Momentum in Game 2?

As the Lakers prepare for Game 2 of their first round playoff series tonight at Staples Center, the question on the minds of the media and the team itself is whether or not Utah's second half surge in Game 1 is cause for concern. Does it mean the Jazz have finally figured out the Lakers? Does it mean the Lakers' struggles with being able to hold a lead are still an issue ? Does it mean the end of the world?

We would argue that it doesn't mean anything at all.

Now, Phil Jackson might beg to differ, as his message on the team's locker room white board of "15? Not like that ..." indicated afterwards. But the coach's job is to be critical. The rest of us shouldn't read too much into the fact that a solid playoff team coached by a Hall-of-Famer didn't lay down and quit once they fell behind by 22 points at the break.

"These teams have pride," Lamar Odom said after Game 1. "No one wants to get their [butts] kicked, especially on national TV."

There's no question that Utah came out with more energy in that third quarter, and had the Lakers' malaise continued into the fourth, it could have become an issue. But overall, as Jerry Sloan mentioned afterwards, the Jazz weren't running their offense -- they were instead playing right into the Lakers' defensive hands.

"It looked like whoever it was that got open took a shot. It wasn't about running an offense, and we have a tendency to think, 'I've got to get me a couple shots up in the ballgame so I'll get my numbers right away.' Well, that didn't work very well. That doesn't go very well for us to have a chance to win. You have to execute somewhat of an offense, otherwise it's mashed potatoes out there and you don't have anything. And that's what we ended up with."

With Mehmet Okur likely out again for the Jazz in Game 2, their offense is likely to be more of the same.

When he is there, Okur opens up the floor for his team, because he spends so much time out on the perimeter. That forces a big man to go out and cover him near the three-point line, which makes it easier for Deron Williams to get into the paint and create for his teammates. Without him, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum can continue to patrol the lane, and force the Jazz into taking a lot more jump shots than they're accustomed to.

One thing that's not likely to change for the Jazz in Game 2 is their advantage on the offensive glass. Utah out-rebounded L.A. by eight, and finished with 20 offensive rebounds to the Lakers' seven. This happens because Derek Fisher (along with most defenders in the league) has a difficult time stopping Williams from using his dribble penetration to get into the paint. This forces a big like Bynum to step up and cut it off, allowing Utah's bigs to go to the glass unchecked.

Believe it or not, this actually benefits the Lakers, in terms of their fast break offense.

Utah seemingly sends five guys to the offensive glass after every shot attempt, which is great for those rebounding numbers, and for their second chance opportunities. If they fail to secure the rebound, however, there's nobody back on defense to stop a quick and athletic Lakers team from getting out in transition and scoring easy baskets. Before there was a foul called on almost every possession in the third quarter, you may recall that the first half of Game 1 seemed like one, long, Lakers' fast break.

Game 2 is likely to be closer than Sunday's contest, mainly because the Jazz are expected to come out with that backs-against-the-wall mentality that a playoff team is supposed to have when they're on the verge of going down 0-2 in a best of seven series. But just because Utah didn't give up in the second half of Game 1, that doesn't mean they're any better-equipped to deal with the many problems that L.A. is going to continue to pose for them in Game 2.

Just like we can expect Williams' penetration and Utah's offensive rebounding advantage to continue in Game 2, the same can probably be said for the Lakers' chances of coming out of it with a victory.

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