The Lakers' 119-109 victory against the Jazz on Tuesday in the second game of their first-round series (RECAP | BOX) couldn't have played out any more like the first if they had simply replayed the tape on the jumbotron for the capacity crowd at the Staples Center.
Lakers take big first-half lead. Lakers lose big lead in the second half. Jazz make late-game push. Lakers come through in the end.
After the way the Lakers finished Game 1 on Sunday, a disgruntled Phil Jackson wrote on the dry erase board in the Lakers' locker room, "15? Not like that ..." In other words, the Lakers weren't going to win 15 more playoff games and a championship by playing that way down the stretch. Well, luckily for the Lakers, they can win four games like this against the Jazz.
The one constant during Jerry Sloan's career has been defense. He was one of the most feared defenders in the league as a player and instilled that same toughness into the teams he coached. But that hasn't been the case this season. Even at 67, Sloan might be the nastiest defender on the Jazz bench if he wanted to slip on a uniform. At least he might have slowed down the Lakers, who once again jumped out to an early 20-point lead.
After the Lakers scored 62 first-half points in Game 1 and won 113-100, Sloan said his team wasn't nasty enough. Sloan joked that he tried to make up for that during the off-day by giving "them some nasty food. We'll see if that did any good."
Well, it didn't. If anything, the Jazz were worse defensively Tuesday than they were in Game 1. They gave up 66 points in the first half, with 38 of those points coming in the paint, a point of concern for Sloan coming into the series. Worse yet, they committed only one foul in the first quarter as the Lakers stormed out to a 41-27 lead. As a player, Sloan would have at least knocked a couple of guys on the floor before he let an opponent score more than 40 points in the first quarter.
"They do a good job of coming at you early and try to blow you out early," said Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. "They are a very efficient team. They run their cuts hard, they make shots and they play good defense. We need to try to combat that, make them work a little harder, hopefully make them miss a couple more shots."
Sure, the Jazz were able to come back and make it a game, closing the gap to three points late, but spotting the Lakers a 20-point lead and letting them executive their offense so easily early in the game is no recipe to beat the Western Conference favorites. Just the fact that the Jazz were even able to come back from that kind of deficit should give them hope heading to Salt Lake City for Game 3 on Thursday, although they'll probably need more than just hope.
Deron Williams. It must be lonely at times to be Williams, the only Jazz player who seems to understand what it means to play tough, playoff basketball. Williams scored a game-high 35 points and had nine assists, four steals and two blocked shots. If the Jazz could clone four more players like him, they'd probably be the favorites in this series. As it is, Williams is surrounded by an inconsistent and often lackadaisical group that has only come out to play during second halves in this series.
"That's Deron Williams being a bad boy," said Kobe Bryant, who played with the Utah point guard on last summer's Olympic team. "He kept them in the game."
Jarron Collins. No one was expecting much from the Utah center as he started in place of the injured Mehmet Okur for the second consecutive game. Well, Collins certainly lived down to expectations. In 13 minutes, his stat line read: two rebounds, one assist and four fouls. The stat line of the man he was guarding, Andrew Bynum, was slightly better as the L.A. big man scored 10 points, all of them coming against Collins.
Shannon Brown. The Lakers' newest weapon continued his sudden and surprising rise on the depth chart, scoring 12 points, going 4-of-6 from the field and hitting two big three-pointers. Brown, who was added to the Adam Morrison-Vladimir Radmanovic midseason trade to make the salary-cap math work, has been an X-factor for the Lakers the past month. He has supplanted Jordan Farmar as the first player Jackson goes to off the bench to replace starting point guard Derek Fisher.
48 points in the paint for the Lakers. Los Angeles has dominated the Jazz down low, which was expected with the loss of Okur, but unless Utah can find a way to contain the Lakers' big front line of Bynum, Pau Gasol and sixth man Lamar Odom, who combined for 51 points, this will be a quick series.
The Jazz were hoping that Okur, who has been out since April 13 with a strained right hamstring, would return for Game 2, but he sat out again and his availability for the rest of the series is in question. During the pregame shootaround Tuesday and practice Monday, he was unable to run, jump or move side to side. Okur said he could be a spot-up shooter if need be, which isn't exactly what the Jazz are seeking. They need his presence in the low post and to defend the Lakers' big front line.
Jack Nicholson was given a standing ovation in the first half after he was shown on the big screen and the P.A. announcer said that it was his birthday (he actually turns 73 on Wednesday). He got up, raised his arms, turned around and thanked the crowd from his courtside seat next to the opposing bench. He was joined at the game by fellow celebrities Kevin Connolly, Leonardo DiCaprio, Andy Garcia, Dustin Hoffman, Michelle Kwan and Justin Timberlake, who had his arm around his girlfriend, Jessica Biel, for most of the game. After Hoffman gave his wife an extra-long kiss on the "Kiss Cam," Timberlake took his glasses off, got up and planted a wet one on Biel before fanning himself off.
Not only are the Jazz going back to Utah down 0-2, but they also have yet to show up in the opening half. Unless the Jazz figure out how to play a complete game, it's hard to see this series returning to Los Angeles for Game 5.
"We have that Utah air, we have great fans, we have a loud arena and that energizes us," forward Kyle Korver said. "Against this team, it doesn't matter where we are at, we have to play four good quarters."