At any level of competition, basketball is all about trust. How well do you trust yourself, your teammates, your system? Despite having superior talent, the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t trust their offense, while the Utah Jazz trusted their bench and their two main superstars. That difference in belief was the reason behind Utah’s 88-86 game three victory over Los Angeles.
The Lakers trusted their triangle offense for a three-minute stretch early in the first quarter, another six-minute stretch midway through the third, and briefly late in the fourth. The rest of the game devolved into a series of my-turn, your-turn possessions with Kobe Bryant—5-24 FG, 1-4 3FG, 18 PTS—being the main culprit.
Instead of playing within his geometric responsibilities, Kobe launched all manner of difficult jump shots—pull-ups, turnarounds, step back fadeaways, all with a long-armed Jazz defender (usually Ronnie Brewer) in his grill. Yet when Kobe played within the system, his cuts and penetrations drew significant defensive pressure and opened up easy shots galore for his teammates—hence his six assists.
With Kobe aborting the offense, Pau Gasol never established an offensive rhythm. That’s why, despite his solid shooting numbers—8-15 FG, 20 PTS—Gasol missed a number of running hooks he usually calmly sinks, and was never a factor passing out of the triangle (1 AST). The jarring displacement of Gasol’s usual place as the second, and often the prime focus of the Lakers’ offense extended to the free throw line, where Gasol only converted 4-10 freebies.
Lamar Odom was also guilty of abandoning the triangle for his own offense. Though he had an effective game—10-17 FG, 14 REB, 21 PTS—most of his points came when he operated within the confines of the triangle, or on broken hustle plays.
Derek Fisher—3-8 FG, 3 REB, 2 AST, 7 PTS—forced a pair of shots and was a general non-factor.
Andrew Bynum, however, was a complete non-factor. Constantly confused, he was always a step slower than he needed to be on defense. Offensively, his moves were forced and clumsy. He fouled out in seven useless minutes with two points, rebounds, and turnovers, and hardly displayed the kind of defensive presence the Lakers are banking can help capture them a title.
Luke Walton and Josh Powell embarrassed themselves in their brief rotations, while Shannon Brown and Trevor Ariza didn’t play with total confidence. The majority of their nine misses (in 13 attempts) were open jump shots or layups.
If Sasha Vujacic played smart, veteran’s defense (clutching, grabbing, and tugging on Kyle Korver’s jersey to prevent him from freeing up around curls), his porous decision making and inability to shoot straight made him a hindrance more than a help.
It’s that lack of trust and poor decision making that prevents the Lakers from being the favorites to win the title. Their talent is unquestioned, but their team-wide lack of faith is appalling. Often times, Kobe’s heroics and Fisher’s marksmanship are enough to overcome that lack of maturity, but Kobe isn’t Superman.
It should also be noted that the referees allowed each team to play with much more physicality than was the case in Los Angeles—a factor that favors the more brutish Jazz. This is another reason why it is imperative for the Lakers to trust their triangle. Referees will always favor offenses that execute diligently rather than offenses that go one-on-one. Should the Lakers run their offense smoothly, it will be in the backs of the referees’ minds to whistle Utah for more fouls should there be any questionable contact.
The Lakers’ flaws shouldn’t be too much of a problem in overcoming the Jazz, who don’t have the frontcourt length to slow down the Lakers in Los Angeles, but it is a concern that must be addressed should the Lakers wish to advance against more formidable opponents.
Deron Williams may have been the one who hit the game winner, but it was Boozer’s mean tune that carried the Jazz to victory. Boozer was an absolute monster on the backboards, pulling down 22 rebounds in total, the majority of them in a crowd. And his combination of elbow jump shots and tough layups off the dribble formed a one-two punch of body blows before Williams’ knockout punch.
Boozer also set bone-shaking screens, and his strong-armed, quick-handed defense on Gasol forced the Spaniard into a rare turnover and a series of surprising short misses.
And it was Boozer’s baseline spin and slam around Gasol with 17 seconds left that gave the Jazz total confidence that they could, and would, win the game.
With questions surrounding his desire to play for Utah, and with his confidence in his jump shot, his defense, and his explosion absent, this series has been Boozer’s confirmation that, at least for the time being, his heart is in Utah and his absent talents have been rediscovered.
Paul Milsap—7 PTS, 14 REB—was Boozer part two, with mauling screens, and sheer relentlessness on the glass.
Deron Williams showed complete faith in his teammates by only attempting seven shots (making three), and dishing off nine assists. And when he had to shoot at the end, he made it count with a gutsy floating fadeaway jumper just outside the mid paint that proved to be the game winner.
The Jazz offense hummed in the first half where wing cuts to the paint were always open. Andrei Kirilenko took advantage of those cuts by scoring or assisting on five first quarter baskets. With Lamar Odom playing more alert defense than Bynum, most of the cuts, and most of Kirilenko’s effectiveness, diminished over the rest of the game.
With Williams looking to strictly facilitate, with Kirilenko disappearing, with Korver a dud until very late in the third quarter, and with Ronnie Brewer missing seven of his 10 wide open jumpers, Utah’s offense became Boozer or bust over the second and third quarters.
For that reason, Matt Harpring’s ferocious screens, midrange jump shots, active defense, and powerhouse baseline drives were a breath of air, blowing the Jazz out of their offensive doldrums and bridging the gap to Williams and Boozer’s heroics down the stretch.
It is that trust, Williams in his teammates, Boozer and Harpring in themselves, the Jazz in its offense, that allowed Utah to overcome their mild talent deficit and overcome the Lakers.
If only the Jazz had the guts to carry that trust on the road, they wouldn’t be a surefire bet to be knocked out before May.
This article also appeared on OTRBasketball.com