Utah 100, LA Lakers 113
Lakers lead series 1-0
That went pretty much according to plan. We got a fairly comfortable double-digit victory on our home floor against the lowest ranked playoff opposition in the Western Conference. It’s nothing to get over-excited about, but it definitely puts us on the right path.
I won’t do much game summary, since everyone in the world was able to watch this one, but suffice it to say that, once we got ourselves on the scoreboard after a few tries, we never looked back. We allowed the Jazz to put up a big third quarter against us when we came out of the break looking complacent, as if we thought we had already won the game, but we played them even after that and the 22-point halftime margin saw us through to a game one victory. The statistical breakdown is encouraging as well. Only Kobe hit the 40-minute mark, which is to be expected from him in the postseason – I swear the guy is a cyborg – and Pau barely got to 37 before picking up his sixth personal and fouling out for the first time all season. The most comforting aspect of the game was how much production we got outside of those two. Trevor Ariza led us in scoring most of the way, until Kobe decided to let loose and seal it for us, and his 21 points came on a clutch 8-for-10 shooting performance. Lamar chipped in a solid 13 as well, and Luke got himself on the board as well with 5. And what can you say about Shannon (not Chris, Jeff) Brown? 3-for-4 from the field, all threes, for 9 points, plus 3 assists and a couple boards on top of his all-around hustle play. Can I start this man’s fan club?
Because it was such a straightforward game, it might be tempting to dismiss this Jazz team – as, I’ll admit, I have essentially done – but there were a few points from this match-up that are worth keeping an eye on. For one, we foul this team way too much. How often do opposing teams shoot more free throws than us? Okay, I honestly have no idea, but I’d have to guess we generally win in that category. Today, however, we continued the trend we started in the final regular season game by putting Utah on the line seemingly every possession. They shot 35 damn free throws to our 32. That’s not a huge margin or anything, but it’s still too many to be giving up to a team that relies so heavily on the pick and roll and has no true big man. Where exactly are all these fouls coming from? Granted, Deron Williams will draw a handful or two on his own, but why do we need to foul Ronnie Brewer EVER? All the fouls were part of a slightly troubling lack of composure for a few moments, which resulted in technical fouls for both Kobe and Lamar and threatened to halt our momentum. Harpring is an irritating little bastard, but he’s got nothing to really threaten us with besides his wayward forearms so just let him slide. In a similar vein, our 17 turnovers weren’t particularly pleasant either, especially since almost all of Utah’s offense came off of our missteps. If we can clean it up just a tad, we won’t have another problem in this series, or any other for that matter. Realistically, however, we will have a one-game slip-up somewhere along the way, almost certainly in Utah, and that will snap us back into focus. Let’s hope it comes at a not too painful time.
One final raised glass here to Kobe, who controlled the game throughout without having to dominate possession or take all the shots. He looked to set up his teammates from the beginning, getting them going before seeking out his own shot, and it paid big dividends in the form of multiple teammates getting and staying in rhythm. Trevor’s offensive explosion – and career playoff-high numbers – can be largely attributed to Kobe setting the table for him early on. Same goes for Shannon’s threes. He was a maestro out there today in orchestrating the whole team, and he was still able to step up and knock down bunches of baskets when we needed him to. Best player in the world till Lebron takes it from him via a title. I’m still waiting.