In the first half of Game 1 against the Utah Jazz, the Lakers played team basketball like a magnificent symphony orchestra. They hit all the high notes at their end and kept the Jazz fiddling around for whatever low notes the Lakers left them.
The Lakers shot 76 percent from the field in the first quarter and 66 percent by halftime. With three players in double figures, the Lakers cruised to a 62-40 lead at the half.
The Lakers shot 56 percent (5-for-9) from the three-point arc while holding the Jazz to just 14 percent (1-for-7) and only 35 percent overall.
Obviously confidence was on the Lakers’ side. While the Lakers’ defense was strong, the Jazz had little confidence in their shooting, failing to make open shots when they had them.
The first half was a story of Laker runs, 10-2, 20-4. But in the second half it was a different story altogether.
The Lakers played more like a garage band than a symphony, loud and off key. They let the Jazz get off to a 9-0 run and watched them cut the lead down to nine points, 72-63 at the 3:24 mark of the third period. The Lakers did manage to close out the period with an 86-73 lead.
The Lakers had two major problems in the period—fouls and offensive rebounding. In the first half, the Lakers allowed the Jazz just seven free throws. But in the third period alone, the Jazz got twice that many attempts, 14.
The second-chance points were overwhelming. The Jazz out-rebounded the Lakers on the offensive boards 13-1 in the period. That is a dreadful statistic as far as the Lakers are concerned with their considerable size advantage.
Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza should have dominated their smaller opponents on the boards, but they didn’t. Just like they have done all season long, when the Lakers are cruising, they simply lock in on cruise control instead of locking down their opponents.
Even without Mehmet Okur, who will return for Game 2, the Jazz outrebounded the taller Lakers, 46-38. On the offensive boards, it was much worse with the Jazz sounding out a 20-7 advantage.
The Lakers were outscored in the third period, 33-24, then played the Jazz dead even in the final period, 27-27, for a 113-100 victory.
But the disappointing fact is that once again when the Lakers had a chance to blow out a team, they let them back in the game.
"It wasn't a coach's delight, that's for sure. But we were able to outscore them," Lakers coach Phil Jackson grimmaced after the game. "But foul after foul after foul and offensive rebounds those are things we harped all week about."
Jackson had every right to complain. Sometimes officials can let a game get out of hand, but today, it was the officials who were out of hand—57 foul calls and 67 trips to the line!
This game was definitely over-officiated. The referees were much too involved, but then what can you expect from a Joey Crawford crew?
Gasol fouled out with a little more than three minutes left in the fourth period. It was the first time that he has fouled out of a game since 2006. Andrew Bynum was also hampered most of the game with fouls. He picked up three and had to sit early in the second period and picked up his fifth early in the fourth and did not return.
His absence definitely hurt the Lakers. Bynum only managed seven points and three rebounds in just 20 minutes.
As for the Lakers’ breakdown in the second half, Jackson had this to say: "I just don't think they were ready for the onslaught. You know, that energy that Utah brings. They play with a lot of determination and they want to bring the ball as deep to you as you let them bring it in, and they are in the lane almost at the basket."
"That's their game," Jackson pointed out, "and you have to try to eliminate some of that. Pau had four blocked shots, and we know that size affects them on the interior part of the game. But many of those were fouls on Drew (Bynum) and fouls on Pau (Gasol). They couldn't get blocks, couldn't stop those shots."
Jackson, who normally only goes three or four deep with his bench in the playoffs, had to counter Utah’s energy by going six deep. Nevertheless, thanks to Paul Milsap and goose eggs posted by Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar, the Utah bench outshot the Lakers substitutes, 37-33.
The Lakers finished with three players in double figures. Kobe Bryant had 24 points to go with eight assists and four rebounds. He also had four turnovers. Trevor Ariza had a career playoff high 21 points. Pau Gasol had 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots before fouling out.
For the Jazz, Carlos Boozer had a game-high 27 points with nine rebounds. Eron Williams had 16 points and 17 assists. Paul Milsap was very active with 15 points and eight rebounds.
The Jazz must feel good about their chances in game two when Okur returns. That will put more pressure on the Lakers’ big men. With Okur being able to hit mid-range and longer jump shots, he can pull Laker defenders out of position and leave the middle wide open.
If the Jazz can create some stops at the Lakers end of the court, they just might be able to steal a game at Staples Center, especially if Bynum, a first-time playoff starter, plays as tenatively as he did today.
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