Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Lose to the Lakers, clean out the lockers.
It's become something of an annual tradition for the Jazz, who for the third straight year had their NBA postseason come to a close with a best-of-seven playoff series loss to Kobe Bryant and the Western Conference's No. 1-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
Two years ago, it happened in the second round and took six games; last year, it was the first round and required only five games.
This year it was again in the Western semifinals.
But this time it was in much-more convincing fashion than the first two, as defending NBA-champ L.A. — riding Bryant's brilliance, and a decided size advantage inside — beat No. 5 seed Utah 111-96 Monday night at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena and handed the Jazz their first-ever 4-0 sweep.
"We're a playoff team — just not a championship team," Jazz All-Star point guard Deron Williams said. "I think we need a couple more pieces, and until we get those pieces we'll be a four or five seed. Challenging."
"They've got about all you want," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who got 21 points apiece from Williams and backup power forward Paul Millsap but 14 rebounds and only 10 points from starting power forward Carlos Boozer, added with reference to the Lakers. "They've got experience, they've got guys that are long and big and can play inside."
And, oh by the way, they've got Bryant.
The reigning NBA Finals MVP finished with 32 points while shooting 11-for-23 from the field and big man Pau Gasol had a game-high 33 points and 14 rebounds for Los Angeles, which broke open the game with a 29-17 second quarter and led by 17 at halftime.
It was the fourth straight game with 30 or more for former NBA MVP Bryant, who seemingly scored at will most of the series.
"He's a terrific player, a great competitor," Sloan said. "I don't know all what you can say about him. I just think he's a wonderful player."
The Jazz, who trailed through the second half, were within 10 points when Laker reserve guard Shannon Brown knocked down a 3-pointer midway the fourth quarter.
But the Lakers led by double digits throughout that final period, and by as many as 22 on three occasions in the final three minutes — the first time when Bryant hit a 15-foot fadeaway to make it 107-85.
"It's kind of déj?vu," Williams said. "You know, we're down 3-0, we get down 10 points, 12 against this team — it's always hard to come back."
It especially was after the Lakers went up by as many as 22 in the second on a couple of free throws from Gasol, leaving the Jazz with little hope of sending the series back to L.A. for a would-have-been Game 5 on Wednesday.
Yet even after going into the break down by 17 at 58-41, the Jazz did manage to get back to within as few as five during a third quarter in which C.J. Miles scored nine of his 15 points.
The first of back-to-back Boozer layups fed by Williams completed a 13-3 Jazz run and made it 69-63 Lakers.
L.A. closed the quarter on a 10-2 run, though, and went into the fourth up by 13, 80-67.
"It was tough, man. It was tough to sit there," Boozer said. "I thought we had a great series, I thought we were trying to battle back, get a win tonight. We just got beat by a better team.
"I expected us to win and I think all of us in this locker room expected us to win," he added, "and so it's unfortunate that we didn't."
Bryant scored 12 of his 32 in the third, including five during the late spurt that pushed the Laker lead back to double-digits — and, for all practical purposes, marked the beginning of the end to Utah's fourth straight postseason appearance.
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