SALT LAKE CITY — After practice on Sunday at EnergySolutions Arena, Lakers star Kobe Bryant was asked why Phil Jackson-coached teams tend to win close games.
"He's had a couple of pretty good, clutch players with him," Bryant said with a smile, obviously referring to himself and the great Michael Jordan dating back to Jackson's coaching days in Chicago.
Bryant and several other Lakers — most notably big man Pau Gasol — made clutch plays as Los Angeles held off a second-half Utah Jazz rally to win 111-96 on Monday night to complete their Western Conference semifinal series sweep.
Gasol scored 17 of his game-high 33 points in the first half as Los Angeles pulled away to lead by as many as 21 in the second quarter.
Bryant, meanwhile, did most of his damage in the second half. Utah rallied to cut the gap to five in the third quarter, but the Lakers regained control to enter the fourth up by 13. The Jazz never could get closer than 10 in the fourth, as the Lakers ended the Jazz's season for the third straight year.
Bryant finished the game with 32 points, as he went off for 30 or more points in every contest. Twenty of his points on Monday came in the second half.
"I feel healthy," said Bryant, who had been banged up with various ailments all season, after the game. "That's a big difference."
The Lakers, meanwhile, will have a week to heal and prepare for the Phoenix Suns in the conference finals. That series will begin Monday in Los Angeles.
"Heavenly," is how Bryant described having that much time off before the start of the next series.
"We want to be as healthy as possible," said Gasol, who also had 14 rebounds Monday. "This week of rest will help."
Utah, known for being one of the better home teams in the NBA, lost both games at EnergySolutions during the series. Former Jazzman and current Laker Derek Fisher has figured out the primary reason for his team's success in Salt Lake City.
"We're good. That has the most to do with it," said Fisher. ". . . And with the things that Kobe has been able to do — he's been able to elevate his performance. That elevates the rest of us and those things have been the key to us having some success in this building."
Utah's third quarter run got the partisan Jazz crowd rejuvenated and had the Lakers on their heels a bit. But Gasol, Fisher, Bryant and Lamar Odom were able to lead L.A. on a 13-6 run near the end the quarter as they regained control.
Bryant says his head coach may seem hands off, but that's only because he has the Lakers so prepared.
"The thing that separates Phil (from other NBA coaches) is that he teaches his teams how to problem solve so that we can make adjustments on the fly ourselves," Bryant said. "As a result, a lot of times you see him just sitting back and you see us (players) doing a lot of the talking. That's because he's taught us to figure things out on our own."6 comments on this story
Fisher, who hit two long-range jumpers in the second half, agrees that the veteran Lakers coach lets the players have a great deal of control — and he says that's a good thing.
"(Jackson) is ridiculed and questions for not calling timeouts at certain points or just not seeming like he's into the game," said Fisher. "But I think that demeanor allows us to kind of find our way back — even when we are not on course — because of his example."
The defending champion Lakers earned their week off by taking care of the Jazz in short order, but that's par for the course when they take a 3-0 series lead. Los Angeles has now gone up 3-0 in 21 series. They have finished with a sweep 13 times and have never needed more than six games to come out on top.