While the attention at the beginning of the night was focused on Kobe Bryant (right), who was presented with his first MVP trophy in front of a home crowd holding up purple and gold "MVP" signs, the focus soon shifted to his teammates, as he invited them to center court to hold the trophy with him. There's been a lot of talk about the Lakers being more of a team this season, and that was never more evident than early in the game, as all five Lakers starters had scored within the first five minutes. Four of the five reached double figures early in the second quarter, as the Lakers dished out 14 first-half assists and finished with 23 dimes. While Bryant was the leading scorer with 34 points, the Lakers took a 2-0 series by doing what they have done for much of the season -- spreading the ball around and getting everyone involved.
For a team that had talked so much about setting the tone early and not digging themselves a hole -- as they did in Game 1 when they fell behind by 19 in the second half before making a comeback -- the Jazz didn't look much different than the tired and lethargic team that suffered on Sunday. If anything, they looked worse. The Jazz made only 8-of-24 shots (33.3 percent), while the Lakers hit 12-of-18 (66.7 percent) in grabbing an early 33-18 lead. Interestingly enough, it was Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, who also struggled early on in Game 1, going 1-for-10 in the second quarter and failing to score in the first period, missing on all five attempts.
Speaking of Williams and Boozer, the only chance the Jazz have of winning this series, let alone taking a game, is if the Jazz's modern-day version of Stockton and Malone play up to their predecessors' Hall of Fame status. So far, they have yet to even show up for an entire game. When they needed to make their presence felt early, the duo was scoreless until late in the second quarter, as Williams hit a last-second three-pointer. Before that shot, they had missed their first six attempts. Boozer, who picked up his third foul 20 seconds into the second quarter, didn't get on the board until hitting the first shot of the third quarter. The duo found their groove in the third quarter, hitting 8-of-11 shots for 17 points (combining for 32 in the second half) to get the Jazz back into the game. But similar to Game 1, their second half turnaround wasn't enough to make up for their first-half disappearing act.
It's no surprise that Boozer has struggled in this series, although it's no less unsettling for the Jazz, who continue to wait for their star forward to break out of his slump. He has averaged about 15 points on 42 percent shooting in the playoffs, compared with 21.1 points on 54.7 percent shooting in the regular season. After being one of only four players in the league this season to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, Boozer has yet to reach that benchmark, let alone 20 points in the past seven games.
The big stat line in Game 1 was the Jazz's 58-41 rebounding advantage. While the Lakers were able to shore up that disparity, narrowing the gap to 41-37, another interesting stat has developed: The Jazz attempted 33 more shots than the Lakers in Game 2 after attempting 22 more in Game 1. That's a combined 55 more shots -- including many of the wide-open or uncontested variety. Of course, the Jazz have to make their shots; and so far, they have done themselves in with poor shooting percentages, shooting 44.6 percent on Wednesday and 37.9 percent on Sunday. The Lakers also hold a sizable advantage in free throw attempts, shooting 16 more from the charity stripe on Sunday, highlighted by Bryant's 23 tries, and 27 more on Wednesday for a combined 37 on the series.
Derek Fisher, who scored 22 points, hit two big three-pointers in front of the Jazz bench early in the game, which no doubt ate at coach Jerry Sloan, who never really liked the idea of Fisher getting out of his contract to return to the Lakers. No opposing player knows the Jazz players better than Fisher, who served as a mentor for Williams. It's no surprise that Fisher, who has nine steals in the series including a career-playoff-high six in Game 1, has been effective on both ends of the ball, neutralizing Williams -- or at least tipping off his teammates on his tendencies and hitting key shots -- or nailing 4-of-5 three-pointers on offense.
Before the game, I talked to Magic Johnson, a three-time NBA MVP, about Bryant finally winning the award. "He should have been the MVP three or four other times, but this season he made his teammates better," said Johnson. "He became a great leader and a great teammate. He could have continued with what he did last summer, but he didn?t let that linger and turned what could have been a disastrous season into a great season."
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