Lakers Struggle Down the Stretch, Fall to Jazz in Utah
The Lakers didn’t arrive in Salt Lake City until after 4:00 in the morning Saturday before having to suit up and head to Energy Solutions Arena to take on a tough Jazz team. The Lakers were riding a three game winning streak over the past week, and were looking to close it off with their third win over Utah this season.
Heading into the game the Jazz were 12-9, which was good enough for the seventh slot in the Western Conference. After their three consecutive wins the Lakers were 14-9, which had them sitting in fifth heading into the contest.
The Lakers started the game looking to use their size advantage. This allowed them to jump to an early lead that they were able to sustain for much of the quarter. The combined contributions from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol certainly allowed the Lakers to establish their post game early in the contest.
As the quarter progressed, however, the Lakers begin to look towards Kobe Bryant to provide some more of their offense. Bryant entered the game just 49 points behind Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the all-time scoring list, and inched closer in the first quarter. Bryant used an array of offensive moves to attack young Gordon Hayward, and scored eight points in the first quarter.
By the time the first quarter ended the Lakers had established a small lead at 25-22. Los Angeles was able to maintain their lead despite turning the ball over five times in the first quarter, something that has plagued them most of the season. Pau Gasol added nine points in the first quarter as well to lead the Lakers.
Los Angeles began the second quarter with several of their reserves on the floor. Rookie Andrew Goudelock, who has greatly exceeded expectations thus far this season, began the quarter running the point. Unfortunately for Goudelock, his hot shooting from the previous week was nowhere to be found in the first half in Utah. After forcing coach Mike Brown to call a timeout after dribbling into trouble, Goudelock airballed a three-point attempt.
Many of the things the Lakers were doing well in the first quarter they started to ignore in the second. With the reserve unit on the floor the Lakers needed to make Bynum their main offensive focal point. However, rather than feeding the center in the paint they spent more time shooting long shots.
After several minutes of missed jump shots the Lakers did begin to look to Bynum more in the paint, and Drew racked up 11 points before the first half ended. The Lakers ended up seeing their lead disappear, however, when Raja Bell hit a three-point basket from the corner. L.A. quickly answered with a three of their own, as Bryant hit the team’s first shot from downtown.
The three-pointer from Kobe ended up being just the beginning. Bryant continued to turn up the offense as the quarter progressed. At halftime the Lakers held a slight lead, 49-47.
Considering how close the first half was it was no surprise that the second half followed the same script. The Lakers and Jazz continued to trade baskets, with neither team building more than a four point lead. The Lakers continued to ride the hot shooting of Bryant, Bynum and Gasol, who combined for over 80 percent of the team’s total offense through the first three quarters.
However, Utah’s bigs were also playing well and giving the Lakers some trouble. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were able to match Bynum and Gasol offensively. But the main difference for the Jazz was the play of their bench. There’s no question that bench production has been a major issue for the Lakers so far this season, and the Jazz were able to capitalize on this again tonight.
After a first half that featured 17 lead changes, the third quarter remained a bit more consistent. The Lakers held the lead for the majority of the quarter, but were never able to push their lead beyond six points. As the quarter began to wind down Utah finally was able to get the lead in the second half, overtaking the Lakers with less than a minute to go in the quarter. Utah pushed their lead to three, which was the biggest of the game for them, as the quarter neared its end. However, Matt Barnes hit a three-pointer as time was running out in the third to send the game to the final period tied, 67-67.
Mike Brown began the final quarter with the reserves on the floor, hoping they could provide some solid minutes while Bryant, Gasol and some of the other starters rested. This gave viewers the chance to see an all-rookie backcourt, as Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock took the court at the same time for the first time in awhile. Unfortunately for Brown and the Lakers the rookie combo didn’t work, and Utah pushed their lead to four, forcing Brown to bring Bryant and the rest of the starters back into the game.
Unfortunately for the Lakers Brown wouldn’t hang around much longer. After a non-call that resulted in a Utah steal and layup, Brown was irate. He went after one of the officials and was quickly ejected from the game. Following the ejection the Jazz were able to extend their lead quickly, turning a tight game into what was beginning to look like a blowout.
However, before Utah could run away with the game Bryant decided to get himself back into the game. The Lakers didn’t score a field goal in the final quarter until there was just 5:56 left in the game. When they did score it was Bryant, who hit back to back threes to get the Lakers on the board in the fourth.
Despite the double digit deficit the Lakers managed to climb back within six points in the final quarter, but that was as close as they would get. The back-breaker came with just over two minutes left in the quarter. With 0.6 seconds left on the shot clock the Jazz passed the ball in to Jefferson, who sank a long jumper that also sank the Lakers. The play was followed by a badly missed Bryant three and another fastbreak basket for the Jazz.
Once again the problem for the Lakers in this game ended up being the bench scoring. The Jazz outscored the Lakers’ bench by a nearly 5:1 ratio. A key player off the bench for the Jazz was Earl Watson, who hit several key shots down the stretch to finish off the Lakers.
By the time the final horn sounded the Lakers had lost their first game of the year to the Jazz in three attempts. L.A. fell to 1-1 on the road trip, losing to the Jazz for the first time this season, 96-87.