A potential game-ending tip-in by Wesley Matthews bounced out of the hoop, sealing Utah's 111-110 loss to the Lakers in Game 3 of the Western semifinals Saturday night. Now down 3-0, the Jazz face the kind of comeback no team has ever accomplished in the NBA. And with the Lakers coming off a game in which Kobe Bryant got more help from outside than inside for a change, the Jazz aren't likely to be the first.
• You can't dance with the champ. Utah wasn't dominant, but it did play well enough to win. And when you are playing a team with as many weapons as the Lakers, you have to dominate in some facet: shooting, physicality, defense. The Jazz didn't separate themselves enough in any aspect and they paid for it. Yes, they held the Lakers not named KobeBryant to 11-for-31 shooting in the first half, but it the Jazz only led by four at the half. And, sure, they outrebounded the Lakers 42-39, but that didn't help when Boozer was hammered after grabbing a final-minute rebound and didn't get the call. The Lakers are too talented to allow them within sight of a win. Players such as Pau Gasol find their touch and force a defense to stretch beyond effectiveness. Someone like Ron Artest can catch fire and carry the Lakers for a quarter. And Bryant can execute the kill with a game in doubt in the closing seconds.
• Revenge of the third (or fourth) bananas. Home games generally offer a boost of adrenaline for role players and, indeed, Kyle Korver almost saved Utah's series hopes, but his star turn was upended by the contributions of Ron Artest and Derek Fisher. Impressive as Korver's near-perfect shooting night (9-10 from the field, 5-of-5 from three-point range was, the fact that he shot quickly with nary a dribble speaks not only to the fortunate rhythm he found, but to Utah's ability to screen him into shooting space. For their parts, Fisher and Artest took advantage of the obvious attention the Lakers' big frontcourt demanded to each shoot 7-for-13 and a combined 7-for-14 from three-point range while chipping in 40 points. That's a big step up from a pair who had shot a combined 2-for-14 from three-point range in the series' first two games. And on a night that saw Andrew Bynum offer nothing and Lamar Odom little more, every point from the two veterans was needed.
• Matchups. Matchups. Matchups.Carlos Boozer has probably had few nights in which he had to work so hard to collect 14 points 14 rebounds than in Game 3. Still, that sort of effort wasn't going to cut it. With Mehmet Okur done for the season, Utah has two reliable offensive options in Boozer and Deron Williams. With Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum throwing all manner of arms and elbows and hips Boozer's way, that leaves Utah with one reliable option: hoping someone can get hot from outside. And even when the Jazz got that from Kyle Korver, it wasn't enough when Boozer spends a first half all-but-missing from the offense and is forced into tough turnarounds and the call of a friendly whistle to score in crunch time.
• Kobe's impatience. If there is any concern for the Lakers out of Game 3, it is the age-old one regarding Kobe's mindset. When L.A. didn't shoot well in the opening moments, Bryant decided to become the offense, shooting 4-for-8 in the first quarter without handing out an assist. His teammates, who shot 3-for-16 in the first quarter, didn't find any sort of rhythm until the second half, when Bryant shot less and distributed more. This may be putting too fine a point on a good road win, but Bryant's teammates are talented enough that he can feed them through a cold spell early and make his task easier late. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum shot a combined seven shots in the first half after averaging 46 points in the first two games of the series. Utah's interior defense may have been tougher to dissect, but does anyone think at least one of the three wouldn't have been able to establish some sort of low-post attack had they received a few more opportunities? Apparently Bryant did, even if it didn't cost him this time.
• What took you so long?Andrei Kirilenko's return from a calf strain won't change the outcome of the series, but he helped the Jazz close some of the size and talent gap Utah has struggled to cope with against the Lakers. He was active on both ends of the floor and made his presence felt on defense in the paint, forcing more than a few Lakers to alter their shots. With eight points and six rebounds in only 17 minutes, Utah can only hope how this series might have been different had Kirilenko been at full strength from opening of Game 1.