Too Much Kobe Down The Stretch; Lakers Take Game 1 From Jazz, 104-99

Kobe Bryant scored 31 points, including 13 in the final six minutes, and the Los Angeles Lakers captured Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series with a 104-99 victory over the Utah Jazz.

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VIDEO: Highlights From Lakers' 104-99 Win Over Jazz In Game One

Watch Kobe Bryant score 31 points, including 13 in the final six minutes, as the Los Angeles Lakers captured Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series with a 104-99 victory over the Utah Jazz.

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Kobe Beefs Up Late, Lakers Comeback To Beat Jazz 104-99 In Game 1

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) – Kobe Bryant scored 31 points, including 13 in the final six minutes, and the Los Angeles Lakers captured Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series with a 104-99 victory over the Utah Jazz.

Bryant went 12-of-19 from the field and a perfect 7-of-7 from the free throw line for the Lakers, who have beaten Utah 15 straight times at Staples Center, including playoff contests. This is the third consecutive season these two teams have met in postseason play, with Los Angeles taking each of the last two series.

Winning a series’ opening game is also crucial for Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, whose teams have advanced 45 out of 45 times when coming out victorious in Game 1. Jackson also eclipsed legendary Los Angeles coach Pat Riley for most postseason wins in franchise history with his 103rd as the Lakers’ head man.

“(Utah is) a good offensive team,” Jackson said. “They’re playing undermanned right now, but they’re playing as a team. We found a way to get the momentum back in the last six minutes. We anticipate that this will be a physical series.”

Pau Gasol added 25 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks for the Lakers, who are 57-7 all time in series when winning Game 1. Derek Fisher added 10 points in the win.

Deron Williams had 24 points and eight assists to pace the Jazz, who made only one field goal in the final four minutes, as they were outscored by a 15-6 margin in that stretch. Carlos Boozer contributed 18 points and 12 boards, while Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles each had 16 points in defeat.

“A good effort by us, except for the slow start,” Williams said. “I’m happy with the way we played. We had a chance to win the game, but we couldn’t get stops. We’re going to have to play better defense and make life a little harder for them.”

Wesley Matthews scored 14 points for Utah, which will look to even this series at Staples Center in Tuesday’s Game 2.

The Lakers led by one as the clock ticked under two minutes in regulation, and Bryant’s pull-up jumper from the free throw line just over the outstretched hand of a defender was good for a 96-93 lead with 1:20 remaining.

Williams responded by driving to the hoop and drawing a foul on Lamar Odom, resulting in two free throws to again make it a one-point game.

Odom made up for the foul, pulling down a crucial offensive rebound off a Bryant fadeaway miss and following with an easy layup for a 98-95 Lakers edge with 49.9 ticks on the clock.

Fisher came up with a key steal on Utah’s next possession, and Bryant responded by knifing through the Utah defense for an acrobatic layup and five- point lead with 22.6 seconds left.

Bryant’s two free throws with 19 seconds to go kept it a five-point game, and the Jazz missed two shots on their ensuing possession. Gasol drilled a pair of free throws with 10.7 seconds remaining to seal the Lakers’ win.

Both teams played tight early until the Lakers opened up a double-digit lead with an 8-0 burst. Bryant began and ended the run with a jumper, giving Los Angeles a 26-15 advantage with under four minutes left in the first quarter.

Utah battled back to make it a seven-point game, 30-23, heading to the second, in which the hosts increased their lead up to 14, 39-25, following a 9-0 burst that ended on Odom’s three-pointer.

“We had a terrible start and got ourselves in a hole,” said Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan. “We finally got back into the game when we started to do the things we’re supposed to do. (The Lakers are) a very smart team and get what they want most of the time. We have to toughen up; we have to be more forceful.”

The Jazz stayed within striking distance, however, and the margin stood at 53-45 in favor of Los Angeles at halftime.

The Lakers maintained their cushion until back-to-back three-pointers from Matthews and Miles brought Utah within 63-60 with 6:15 left in the third.

Los Angeles came back with the next six points, including two baskets from Fisher, to reclaim a nine-point lead, and the Lakers took an 81-73 edge to the fourth.

Utah moved in front early in the final period with 10 consecutive points. With the Jazz down by seven and facing the Lakers’ second unit, Millsap keyed the run with two layups, and Boozer’s basket with 6 1/2 minutes to play put the visitors ahead, 85-82.

Los Angeles re-inserted its starters near the tail end of the spurt, and Gasol tied the game at 85-85 on a three-point play with six minutes left.

“We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole,” Bryant said. “Our second unit has to play better. It got really tough sitting on the bench, so I had to check myself back into the game. We had to buckle down in the fourth quarter.”

Utah went up by four with four minutes left after back-to-back baskets by Miles and Matthews, but Bryant came back with a pair of free throws and a three-point play to put the Lakers ahead, 94-93, with 3:16 remaining.

Game Notes

The Lakers improved to 4-0 at home this postseason and 67-13 at Staples Center all-time in the playoffs…Utah’s last win on the road over the Lakers came on January 1, 2006…Los Angeles beat the Jazz in five games in last year’s first round and in six games in the 2008 conference semis…Bryant moved into sole possession for second place on the Lakers’ franchise list in postseason made free throws with 1,075. He also moved ahead of Jerry West for second on the team’s list of made field goals in the playoffs with 1,626…Jackson went 24-0 with the Bulls when winning Game 1 and is 21-0 with the Lakers…Utah is 29-83 all-time in road playoff games…Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who was questionable with a knee injury, recorded eight points and 10 boards in 25 minutes.

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Lakers Blog: The Victory That Almost Wasn't...But Then Was

“Killer instinct” and “focus.” Expect to hear those words a lot over the next couple days in terms of whether or not the Lakers possess those things in adequate quantities, which is why a 14-point lead against the Utah Jazz today fell apart and became a three-point deficit. Of course, as Laker blog Silver Screen And Roll points out, that three-point deficit quickly disappeared and became a five-point win.

What we saw from the Lakers in the final minutes of the game I found very encouraging. There was Kobe, and there was Pau, executing a patient and coordinated attack to seal the win. Kobe looks better now than he has at any time since the early days of the season. He’s getting great lift on his jumpshots and is finding the right balance between distribution and finding his own points. Special kudos as well to Lamar Odom. His three balls are still off-target, but he did fine work on the boards today. Just in the fourth quarter, Lamar collected four offensive rebounds that led to six Laker points.

What must be frustrating for Utah is that they lost despite getting decent production from second-tier dudes Miles and Matthews. Those contributions aren’t going to be there every game, so they’ll need even more from Williams, Boozer and Millsap. They also need Fesenko to give them something. There are almost four full days of rest between Tuesday’s Game Two and Saturday’s Game Three, so by the time this series gets to Utah we could see Bynum functioning at something closer to 100%. If we get to that point and the Jazz still haven’t stolen a win in Staples, the series could be over fast.

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