Kobe Bryant, grimacing in pain as he gingerly walked up and down the court -- at times bent over or holding his strained back -- looked like Superman playing in front of a powder blue-and-white sea of kryptonite in Utah. While Bryant (right) scored a game-high 33 points, his fifth straight 30-point game in the playoffs, to go along with eight rebounds and 10 assists, the league's MVP was unable to be "the closer" the Lakers have come to rely upon. After the Lakers overcame a 12-point fourth quarter deficit, Bryant hit just 1-of-10 shots in a crucial stretch from the end of the fourth quarter to the beginning of overtime. Bryant, who hit only 13 of his 33 shots attempts, (1-for-10 from beyond the arc), continued to put up shots late in the game as his teammates insisted on running the offense through him even though it was clear he wasn't able to be as effective as he has been in the playoffs. "I was angry at his teammates for dropping the ball off in his lap when he was in the situation that he was in," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "I felt guys just bailed out on him."
The key for the Lakers in the first two games was Derek Fisher. Not only was he able to neutralize Deron Williams but was able to help his teammates with Utah's tendencies, collecting nine steals, not to mention dropping 22 points in Game 2. In Game 4, much like Game 3, Fisher was a non-factor in the first half, collecting his second foul early in the first quarter. The Jazz went on a 13-3 run as Williams scored six straight points against an overmatched Jordan Farmar, who has struggled in this series, shooting 1-of-16 including 0-for-2 on Sunday. The absence of Fisher allowed Williams, who finished with 29 points and 14 assists, to impose his will on the Lakers early and set the tone for the game. Fisher's impact on the game was evident in the second half as he single-handedly sparked the Lakers' fourth-quarter comeback, scoring 10 straight points in the period, and hitting 4-of-5 three-pointers for the game.
After sleepwalking through the first two games of this series (and really the whole playoffs), Carlos Boozer awoke in Game 3 with a stellar 27-20 game, but came back down to earth on Sunday, shooting 1-of-7 in the first half as he and Mehmet Okur combined to go 2-for-12 in the first two quarters. Boozer and Okur, however, came alive in the third quarter, scoring the team's first eight points. But Boozer, who finished with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting, will have to find that consistency that made him one of only four players in the league to average 20 points and 10 rebounds if the Jazz are going to steal a game in Los Angeles.
The flagrant foul by Ronny Turiaf on Ronnie Prince, which resulted in Turiaf's ejection and a bloodied forehead for Prince, figured to energize the Jazz, which had taken a 34-24 lead. It ended up lighting a spark under the Lakers as they scored the next six points and scored in their final 11 possessions of the first half to tie the score, 55-55. While Turiaf's foul was hard, the Lakers, which had been getting roughed up by the Jazz, complained he was playing the ball and it was no harder than some of the fouls they had been taking. "I thought the kid was out of control when he went in and Ronny went up to block the shot and played the ball," said Jackson. "I haven't seen a call like that. It was a harsh call."
Pau Gasol was criticized for spending the majority of Game 3 complaining after he didn't get calls from the officials. His complaining was compounded by his worst game as a Laker as he finished with 12 points and six rebounds. While Gasol was far more effective in Game 4, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds, he still spent a good part of the game complaining about calls, especially in the second half as Lamar Odom, who finishing with 26 points and 13 rebounds, picked up the slack.
Bryant conducted his post-game press conference standing up, holding a microphone in front of the room in a white suit, joking "My name is Don Cornelius." Midway through answering the first question of a one minute, 45-second press conference, Bryant grimaced and said "I turned that up way too much," as he turned down the pressure of the electronic stimulation device he was wearing around his back. Bryant, who made no excuses about his performance and predicted he would be ready for Game 5 on Wednesday, said, "I couldn't really go to the basket so I tried to be a decoy and kick it out but we just weren't able to get the stops we needed to win."
Not since Shaquille O'Neal was manning the paint have the Lakers shot so poorly from the free-throw line in a playoff game. While the Lakers took advantage of their shots in the first two games, making 103 of 126 attempts, the Lakers made only seven of their first 18 from the charity stripe Sunday, finishing 14-of-25 as opposed to 24-of-32 for Utah. In the first three games the Lakers had gone to the line 52 more times than the Jazz. "That's always been an emphasis," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "A lot of that has to do with the way we started the ballgame. The game was really up-tempo for us."
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