Lakers take Game 1, 15 more to go (not all in this series, of course)
That old axiom that says it's not simply about reaching the destination, but also enjoying and appreciating the journey? I don't think it applies to the NBA Playoffs. At least not for the Lakers. That explains why, after the Lakers cruised past Utah 113-100 in Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series Sunday afternoon at Staples in a game that was never actually in question, the dominant theme when it was over centered around a sluggish second half, rather than a fairly epic first 24 minutes.
This despite the fact that absolutely nothing happened yesterday to give anyone any indication that the Jazz might actually threaten LA over the rest of the series.
After building a 22 point lead heading into the break, the Lakers let Utah climb back to within nine at various points over the second half, were milk-and-cookies welcoming in the paint, and were thrashed on the boards, particularly on their own end. Utah grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, a fairly ridiculous 38% of their own misses and well above their 28% average. In part, of course, because they shot the ball horribly (39% overall, 35% in the first half) and more misses mean more chances to hit the glass, but as we pointed out in the postgame report, it was second chance points for Utah that helped keep them in (or reasonably in) the game.
That, and fouls. And free throws. Which come with fouls. (Which come with Joey Crawford.) They're like cousins. The Lakers were knee deep in whistle trouble from the get go. Derek Fisher sat with two quick fouls in the first quarter. Andrew Bynum's "technically no, practically speaking yes" playoff debut was spoiled by five fouls in 20+ minutes. Pau Gasol blocked four shots and finished with his typically efficient 7-11 shooting night en route to 20 points, but fouled out in the fourth.
But like all things, there's good in the bad.
The whistly nature of things helped open up the game for LA's two other playoff novices, in Shannon Brown and Trevor Ariza. Both came up large. Ariza had 21 points, including 10 in the first quarter, and played great defense on Utah's lone shooter, Kyle Korver. Brown made all three of his triples, and was a major part of the defensive push that gave LA its big halftime cushion. I'm guessing Jerry Sloan and Co. game planned for Kobe (an efficient 24 points/8 dimes... but often Bryant puts up 24 points falling out of bed) and Gasol, and probably Lamar Odom (13/8) and Bynum... but when Shannon Brown and Trevor Ariza step up like that?
And good. To the point that some, like Yahoo! Sports' Johnny Ludden, wonder if boredom will be LA's biggest obstacle in the W.C. playoffs, just as it often was during the regular season:
That the Lakers won fairly easily and weren't particularly impressed is a bad sign for the Jazz. Tuesday, after the Lakers dusted his squad in the regular season finale, Jerry Sloan said things looked bleak for his group. They still do, writes the LAT's Mark Heisler. Perhaps that's why Sloan spent so much time after the game lamenting his team's lack of nastiness:
He went on:
"...We kind of looked like deer in the headlights to start off with. I was really shocked that we would play that way, but some of our guys are young guys, and hopefully they will learn..."
That could be a step past bleak. Basically, he called his guys a bunch of fancy lads:
Might as well break out all the motivational tools while you can. In the meantime, the Lakers will hit the practice floor this afternoon and look to shore up that which leaked Sunday in anticipation of Tuesday's Game 2. The Jazz didn't scare (which helped Kobe and Kanye have a little fun) but there's room for improvement. As Phil Jackson wrote on the locker room white board after the game, "15? Not like that..." Meaning the quality of yesterday's output won't take LA where the team wants to go.
No word yet on the status of Mehmet Okur, who didn't play in Game 1 and would certainly provide a boost for the Jazz, but either way the Lakers ought to be able to continue building momentum. They're too good on both ends for Utah.