After Kobe Bryant’s 48-point outburst against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night the Lakers had to turn around and fly to Salt Lake City for a Wednesday night meeting with the Utah Jazz. This was the second meeting of the season between the two teams, as Los Angeles defeated Utah early in the season at home.
This would be a different scenario, however, as the scene shifted to the Energy Solutions Arena. This was a slightly ominous sign for the Lakers, who have had their fair share of trouble in Utah in the past. Couple that history with the fact that the team was still winless on the road coming into the game and L.A. seemed to have everything working against them.
To make matters worse for the Lakers they were once again without a variety of their bench players. Josh McRoberts (toe), Troy Murphy (flu) and Jason Kapono (personal reasons) were all out of the lineup on Wednesday night. This meant the Lakers would once again be relying on Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to carry the majority of the load.
The Jazz started strong and the Lakers looked a little flat after a late night flight that didn’t arrive in Salt Lake until very early Wednesday morning. The Jazz, led by Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in the paint. The Lakers once again relied on the offensive production of Bryant, who again looked hot in the first quarter.
Los Angeles also made more of a concerted effort to find Bynum in the post, but once again he was having some trouble delivering. After a torrid start to the season, the Lakers’ center has slowed down considerably over the last three games.
Still, the Lakers were once again able to ride the hot shooting of Kobe Bryant. After Raja Bell, whose rivalry with Bryant has been well documented, picked up a technical foul early in the quarter Bryant went on a scoring binge. After scoring 17 points in the first quarter on Tuesday night he added 12 more in the first quarter on Wednesday.
After apparently hitting their stride in the first, the Lakers lost all momentum in the second. The Jazz, led by Millsap on the offensive end, disrupted the Lakers defensively while managing to get easy looks on offense. This has been a disturbing trend for the Lakers so far this year, as their defense has struggled for extended periods of time.
Utah reclaimed the lead early in the quarter, and was able to build upon it as the first half progressed. The Lakers began to settle for outside shots, which has been their Achilles heel for the majority of the season so far. Once the offensive rotation began to falter the points became harder to produce.
While the Lakers had plenty of trouble on offense, it was the defensive end where they saw their biggest problems in the second quarter. Far too often the Jazz players found themselves with open lanes to the basket or open looks from outside on missed assignments. Luckily for the Lakers the Jazz had trouble connecting on a lot of those open looks.
There was one memorable moment in the quarter for the Lakers. Rookie Darius Morris took the floor for his first appearance of the regular season, and even scored his first NBA points.
Even after playing a rather uninspired second quarter, the Lakers found themselves down just a single point at halftime, 42-41.
The Lakers started the third strong and were able to reclaim the lead after (finally) hitting their first three-point shot of the game. From there the two teams traded baskets but neither was able to establish much of a lead.
One thing we did see from the Lakers in the third was Andrew Bynum. After struggling in the first half, Bynum continued to have a bit of trouble offensively in the third. However, the Lakers continued to look to Bynum on offense. It was encouraging to see Bynum continue to play strong on the defensive end despite his difficulties shooting. In the past Bynum has been the type of player that has trouble staying in the flow of the game when he isn’t having much of an impact on offense.
While it’s beginning to sound redundant, the Lakers once again found themselves squarely on the broad shoulders of Kobe Bryant. He was once again up for the challenge as he helped lead the team again in the third. Bryant had recorded 31 points through the first three quarters, and helped Los Angeles establish a small lead by the end of the quarter.
However, the Lakers had very little offensive support from the rest of the lineup. After Bryant the next leading scorer for the Lakers was Pau Gasol with eight points, half of which came in the third quarter. If the Lakers were going to win their first road game of the season they would need some help from the supporting cast in the final quarter.
Even though the Lakers were leading entering the final quarter there was no question the Jazz weren’t about to roll over. With Kobe Bryant on the bench to start the final period the Lakers were going to have to rely on someone else to provide the offense.
Unfortunately for the Lakers that never happened.
The bench, or Peace Corps as they have been dubbed, struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm without Bryant, Gasol or Bynum on the floor. Metta World Peace, who has struggled mightily since starting the season strong, shot just 1-6 from the floor, including two missed three-point attempts in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Darius Morris did get a little more playing time to start the fourth, but had trouble maintaining control. Just like countless rookies before him, Morris will need to learn to let the game come to him, rather than trying to force the issue.
In the final quarter the Lakers needed somebody to step up offensively after Bryant carried the team for the first three quarters. They were able to get some help from both Bynum as well as Matt Barnes, who both reached double digits in the final quarter.
But, as expected, the Jazz weren’t about to quit. Josh Howard connected on a three-point shot with less than a minute remaining to tie the game up once more. However, much to the chagrin of Jazz fans, Bryant quickly put the Lakers back on top by a pair with a shot of his own. Not to be outdone by their Western Conference rivals, Utah tied it one final time with just 21 seconds left on the clock.
With time for one final possession the Lakers were most likely looking to Bryant. After Utah used their final foul to give with just seven seconds left, the Lakers once again had one final shot to win the game or face overtime.
Unfortunately for the Lakers Bryant’s final shot didn’t fall, and the two teams faced overtime tied at 78.
After tying the game late the Jazz took control of the score after connecting on the first two buckets of the extra period. However, the Lakers had a few tricks up their sleeve before conceding the victory to Utah.
After Bryant connected on a three-point basket, his first of the night, the Lakers handed the ball to Pau Gasol. There’s no doubt that Gasol has had his fair share of difficulties this season, but he stepped up in the clutch for the Lakers on Wednesday night.
After hitting two free throws, Gasol stepped beyond the three-point line to connect on his first three-point bucket of the season. The three put the Lakers up by a single point.
Still, with less than 24 seconds remaining the Jazz had a chance to win the game with one final shot. But Andrew Bynum came up huge for the Lakers, blocking a late attempt by the Jazz. Utah was instantly forced to foul, sending Bryant to the line for two last free throw attempts. Kobe was able to connect on both, giving him 40 points for the second straight game, and putting the Lakers up for good.
It was a nail-biting game but in the end the Lakers managed to get their first road victory, 90-87, over a very tough Utah Jazz team. The win pushed the Lakers to 8-4 on the season, and was their fourth straight win overall.