There aren't any words that will make Utah Jazz fans feel any better tonight. None.
Utah did everything right in Game Three, yet they still fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in front of a raucous home crowd.
The Jazz now face a historically insurmountable 0-3 deficit and are all but done for the 2009-10 NBA season.
On a night where the Utah bench provided a spark courtesy of Kyle Korver's 23 points (9-10 field goals), won the rebounding battle, and shot 45.5% from three point range, the veteran Lakers still found a way to escape with a gut-wrenching victory which saw 22 lead changes and eight ties.
In the end, it seemed that everything Utah could do, Los Angeles could do better.
Despite a colossal mistake by Ron Artest on an inbound pass with six seconds remaining (and a missed call by Joey Crawford), the Jazz were unable to pull out a win as Deron Williams' deep jumper rimmed out followed by Wesley Matthews' tip in being half an inch from falling in.
In NBA basketball, the better team almost always wins a seven-game series and similarly, in a game where both teams play at a high level, the better team usually gets the breaks that make the difference between winning and losing.
Did the Lakers play flawlessly? Certainly not.
Did they play good enough to beat the Jazz, who had their best game of the series in a must-win situation? Good enough by a point, and in the end, that's the difference between 3-0 and 2-1.
Kobe Bryant continued his string of outstanding performances, eclipsing the 30-point mark for the fourth straight game while amassing seven assists and four rebounds.
The Lakers overcame Andrew Bynum's unproductive 20 minutes (zero points, four rebounds) with a combination of Pau Gasol and Ron Artest, both hitting critical shots and grabbing important rebounds down the stretch.
Gasol finished with 14 points and 17 rebounds while Artest came out of his shooting slump to score 20 points, 4-7 from three point range.
Game Four in Utah will be an opportunity to close out the Jazz, and Bryant is usually exceptional in such situations. But those who know anything about Jerry Sloan coached team will tell you that Utah will not go down without a fight.
The Lakers' best chance at putting the series away and moving on to the Western Conference finals will be to get out ahead of the Jazz early and keep the foot on the gas, something they have struggled with throughout the playoffs.
But before we get to Game Four, let's take a look at three things we learned from Game Three:
1. Kobe Bryant's killer instinct is as good as ever.
A lot of doubt was building as Bryant looked mortal over the past couple of months. Even in the first round, with Kevin Durant blocking his shot late in the fourth quarter, people began to openly question whether the old veteran had what it took to close out games like he once did in the past.
Well, all questions have been answered...emphatically. Not only has Bryant hit big shot after big shot, but he has put his teammates in excellent positions to deliver.
Game Three was as great of an example as any, with Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest all hitting critical three-point baskets in the fourth quarter.
The scariest part for those who are waiting to see Kobe fall is that he seems to be perfecting the art of knowing when to attack, knowing when to pull back, and knowing when to be the Black Mamba.
It will be very important for the Lakers to close out the Jazz as soon as possible so that Bryant can take advantage of some time off, get some rest, and be ready to go for the final stretch of the playoffs.
2. Derek Fisher is a fierce competitor.
Think about how it must have felt for Fisher to have everyone assuming that Deron Williams would abuse him throughout the series. No one gave the veteran a chance, including myself.
But quietly, Fisher has had a very good series and held his own against the younger Williams...the point guard many are now anointing as the best in the game.
Fisher's statistics aren't eye-popping, but he has done an excellent job in guarding Williams while also hitting critical shots at different junctures in the game.
His leadership and hard-nosed play has been something the Lakers have fed off, and there is a reason that Phil Jackson has stuck with Fisher for so long: the guy is a winner and a competitor.
3. Go to the hole, Deron!
I understand that Deron Williams had been shooting well all night. That being said, with 4.4 seconds left, the home crowd on its feet, and the Lakers scared to foul, it was the perfect chance for Williams to catch the ball above the arc, drive through the lane and look to get a good shot off or draw a foul.
Instead, the young star pulled up for a deep jumper with Ron Artest's hand in his face.
There are certain players who are better off pulling up for jumpers in those situation, such as Kobe Bryant or Ray Allen.
Then there are those who need to drive and get to the hole: LeBron James, Manu Ginobili and yes, Deron Williams.
My money would have been on Williams either scoring on a floater or drawing a foul had he taken the ball to the rim in that situation.
Unfortunately for Jazz fans, it's too late to wonder what could have been.
But in my years of watching the game, I think it's always better to put the ball on that floor than take a deep shot and have no chance at a referee bailing you out.
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