The Lakers took a two games to none lead over the Utah Jazz in their first round playoff series on Tuesday, winning by a final of 119-109 at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant led the way with 26 points and nine assists, and Pau Gasol finished with 22, as L.A. once again got out to a big early lead before Utah was able to claw their way back into it.
This time, however, they didn't wait until the second half to do so.
After the Lakers went up by as many as 14 in the first quarter and stretched the lead to 20 late in the second, the Jazz went on a 9-0 run to close the half, and found themselves trailing by just 11 at the break.
Utah further cut into the lead during the third quarter, and they were able to get to as close as six several times. But after all was said and done and the Laker lead fluctuated between 11 and six, the teams finished even for the period and the Lakers took the same 11-point margin into the fourth.
The Jazz kept on fighting though, and closed the gap to just three points with under three minutes to play. L.A. maintained control for the rest of the way, after a layup from Lamar Odom and a tough jumper from Kobe Bryant helped the Lakers pull away and seal it for good.
Pau Gasol had a chance to put the game out of reach a possession or two earlier, but missed two free throws with his team leading by five and under two minutes to play. He made up for it on the defensive end on the very next possession, and blocked two shots to force Utah into a 24-second violation.
"I wanted to redeem myself a little bit, and come out with some positive action," Gasol said. "Those free throws down the stretch are huge. I wasn't getting a lot of looks in the fourth quarter, and I didn't have any rhythm and touch down the stretch. I was trying to produce, trying to be productive and a helpful teammate on either end [of the court]."
The Lakers began Game 2 in much the same way that they opened up Game 1. L.A. forced the Jazz into jump shots early in their possessions, and turned those missed shots into easy points in transition. The Lakers put up 41 first quarter points, while hitting on 18 of their 21 shot attempts in the period. The 85.7 percentage was the best shooting quarter in the NBA playoffs since official play-by-play tracking began in 1998.
Andrew Bynum started off hot, and had 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the game's first seven minutes of action. We asked Bynum if the foul trouble in Game 1 had anything to do with his more aggressive mindset to start Game 2.
"It definitely did," Bynum said. "And I tried to continue it."
Bynum contributed defensively the rest of the way by blocking four shots, but cooled off considerably offensively, and went 0-for-6 from the field to finish the game.
One area of concern in Game 2 was the Lakers' carelessness with the ball. They committed 21 turnovers, but the Jazz were able to get only 19 points out of them. We discussed the turnover situation with Lamar Odom, who echoed something Phil Jackson had said about the team maybe being more willing to take chances while playing on their home court.
"Utah did a good job of packing it in, and getting their hands in the passing lanes," Odom said. "We were able to do a good job of maybe, turning it over and getting back. You know, not giving them two points when we turn it over or three points. Of course, when you're on your home court, you're a little bit more free with the basketball. Up there, we're going to have to be conscious of it and be tight with the basketball. And make good decisions throughout if we're going to expect to win the game."
For the second consecutive game, the Jazz were able to come back after the Lakers opened with a huge lead. The questions about lack of focus or killer instinct were there, but Kobe Bryant provided a more obvious reason.
"It's Deron Williams being a bad boy," Kobe said. "He made great reads, and he kept them in that game."
Williams was awesome, and finished with 35 points and nine assists. But after starting the game shooting 12-of-18, he was held without a field goal (on 0-for-5 shooting) over the game's last five minutes.
The series will shift to Utah for Games 3 and 4, where the Jazz have one of the strongest home court advantages in the league. Kobe articulated the difference in venues rather colorfully.
"A bunch of people in the crowd want to kill you," Bryant said of playing in Utah. "But they're not going to come down on the court -- I don't think. So, until I see a fan run out on the court and block a jump shot, it's the same thing."
Utah played solid basketball in the second half, and seemed to gain confidence as the game wore on. In the likely event they get Mehmet Okur back for Game 3, the series might look a whole lot different over the next two games in Utah than it did here in Los Angeles.