If, as Phil Jackson suggests, Kobe Bryant's teammates bailed out on him at the end of Game 4, then it's safe to say his teammates bailed him out of Game 5. While Bryant went scoreless for all but the final seconds of the decisive fourth quarter in L.A.'s 111-104 win over the Jazz, seven other Lakers put points on the board. While the Lakers proved that they can win with Bryant as facilitator and a decoy, the league's MVP showed early that he had recovered from the back injury that limited him in Game 4. Bryant (right) hit the game's first two baskets, including a quick three, and glided to the basket without the noticeable limp and discomfort he showed in Game 4. But he hit only one of his next four shots, and the lack of practice clearly affected his stamina. As in Game 1, Bryant did most of his damage from the free-throw line, hitting 13-of-17 to finish with a team-high 26 points.
As the Jazz rotated five defenders on him, Bryant simply looked to his teammates. "They started collapsing on me and I had to kick it out to the shooters and they made some huge plays," Bryant said. "It was a great team effort. My teammates really picked me up."
Deron Williams not only reversed his trend of poor starts in Los Angeles but also set the tempo for the game by scoring 12 points and dishing out nine assists in the first half. Williams added 15 points in the final half for a game-high 27, but he was unable to get his teammates involved, failing to record an assist until late in the fourth quarter. Then again, there wasn't much for Williams to work with as he seemed to be the only one capable of putting the ball in the basket. The Jazz shot 39.5 percent in the second half and 33.3 percent in the fourth quarter. Carlos Boozer, who has taken the brunt of the blame for the Jazz's inability to win in Los Angeles, did little to help his pick-and-roll running mate. While Boozer finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, he continued his poor shooting, hitting 6-of-16 and committing three turnovers in the process.
Outside of the trade for Pau Gasol, the biggest difference in the Lakers this season has been their deep bench. Nicknamed "The Bench Mob," the normally five-deep rotation has been mostly silent in this series. While Jordan Farmar, who had been 1-of-17 in this series, broke out and hit two threes to finish with six points, Sasha Vujacic was cold all night, hitting only 1-of-11 shots and getting a technical for trash-talking Kyle Korver. The Lakers were once again outscored by the Jazz bench, 18-13, and it could have been more lopsided if Korver, Matt Harpring and Paul Millsap didn't get into foul trouble.
It was a surprisingly sloppy first half for both teams as the Lakers and Jazz combined for 26 turnovers. The Jazz couldn't have picked a worse time to be careless with the ball. They had 15 first-half turnovers, more than their total from any of their previous five games. The Lakers converted those turnovers, including nine steals, into 20 points. L.A., however, kept the Jazz in it by giving the ball away 11 times in the first half, which led to 19 Utah points. Both teams cleaned up their act in the second half, combining for only seven turnovers.
Leading up to Wednesday's game, the Jazz talked about the importance of avoiding the slow starts of Games 1 and 2, when they fell behind by double digits early in the first half. The key to the turnaround figured to be Williams and Boozer, who were unable to get into a groove until the second half of both games. While the Jazz came out strong in Game 5, shooting 11-of-18 (61.1 percent) in the first quarter, it was Ronnie Brewer who sparked them. The second-year guard from Arkansas hit Utah's first four baskets, three of them wide-open dunks, and scored 10 of the Jazz's first 12 points. In fact, no Jazz player besides Brewer got on the board until Williams hit a jumper halfway through the first quarter. The problem for the Jazz was the Lakers came out just as hot, shooting 9-of-15 (60 percent), and Utah never led in the quarter -- or the game for that matter, failing to gain the advantage on the scoreboard in any of its three games in Los Angeles.
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