Lakers' dominance too much for Jazz to overcome in 111-96 Game 4 victory
The Lakers had the Jazz right where they wanted them, building a double-digit half-time lead, establishing continued dominance from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and sucking the atmosphere right out of Energy Solutions Arena.
But then the second half began. As it had been all series, the Jazz never relented in the Lakers' quest to put the game away. And with the Lakers' tendency to coast after building large leads, Utah's workmanlike attitude again brought them back in the game and reduced the Lakers' lead to single digits. In typical fashion, however, the Lakers' talent turned back on, resulting in a 111-96 Game 4 victory Monday over Utah, marking the first time the Jazz have been swept in a seven-game series.
Even though the Lakers' 4-0 easily pushed them to their third consecutive West Finals -- beginning Monday against Phoenix at Staples Center -- the Lakers aren't exactly playing sharp at all times. Case in point, the Jazz chipped away at double-digit leads in Games 1 and 2, would have taken Game 3 had Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews converted on game-winning shots and slashed the Lakers' comfortable lead again in Game 4. The Jazz also simply didn't have the parts necessary to compete with the Lakers, especially with Mehmet Okur (ruptured left Achilles) out for the series and Andrei Kirilenko (strained left calf) not returning until Game 3. I had maintained for a while that the Lakers needed to be at their peak in the postseason to ensure a second consecutive title.
Though they haven't exactly reached that point, the Lakers have made significant progress in other areas. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant appears as healthy as he has been in the past few months, with his 32 points on 11 of 23 shooting marking the fifth consecutive game he's scored at least 30 points. His lift was noticeably high in Game 4, helping him sink fallaway jumpers in the post and increase his elevation on pull-ups, two qualities that were instrumental in scoring the team's first seven points to stave off before Utah went on a 7-0 run to cut the Lakers' lead to 65-59 with 5:28 remaining. No doubt, a week of rest will only embolden Bryant's gave even more, given that his previous ineffectiveness mostly rooted in his injuries and how he and his teammates didn't always adjust properly to those injuries.
Pau Gasol's 33 points on 12 of 18 shooting along with 14 rebounds served as the third time in the four-game series he scored at least 20 points, and served as a rebounding effort from his 14 points on six of 12 shooting in Game 3. Though Utah still made a concerted effort to limit the Lakers' inside, Gasol offset that by sinking outside jumpers.
And Lakers guard Shannon Brown scored 12 points on five of 10 shooting, including two consecutive three-pointers. Though his contributions didn't serve as a game changer, it served as a welcome contrast than when the reserves struggled to maintain leads in Games 1 and 2. I've learned really not to take much from good performances from the bench, but Brown's performance at least served as a reminder of the reserves importance given Phoenix boasts a very dangerous bench.
The Lakers, of course, aren't without their problems, most notably Andrew Bynum's disappearing act (six points on two of six shooting). But the Lakers should feel satisfied with their post-season run knowing their improved play earned them a week off to rest, which should help Bynum's lateral meniscus in his right knee, and a week off to prepare, which should ensure better sustained efforts. When it comes down to it, the postseason involves finding a way to advance, good, bad or ugly. And for the time being, the Lakers have followed down that path.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries for a reverse layup against the defense of Utah forwards Paul Millsap (left) and Andrei Kirilenko (47) as well as guard Kyle Korver (background) in the first half Monday night. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times