The M-V-P chant that seems to follow Kobe Bryant around the league like a loyal groupie resonated throughout EnergySolutions Arena in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game.
Though the Lakers superstar was on the court — and he had plenty of adoring supporters in the sold-out crowd — the acronym was not intended for him on this night.
It was in support of Bryant's Olympic teammate, Deron Williams, who at least played like the MVPG (most valuable point guard), if not the MVP, in leading the Jazz to a 102-94 win over the Lakers.
The Jazz's star point guard scored a team-high 21 points, dished out 11 assists, snagged four rebounds and dominated the game-clinching fourth quarter.
"That's what he does," Jazz small forward C.J. Miles said. "He's the leader of this team, and the leader for a reason. He plays hard.
"He picks his spots — when it's time to take over and when he has to get everybody involved."
The most obvious spot in this win — which snapped the Lakers' 11 game winning streak and helped avenge a rough loss in L.A. on Wednesday — came at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan opted to start Williams instead of backup Eric Maynor, who usually gets the nod out of the gate in the final period.
Turned out to be a shrewd move by the Hall of Fame coach.
Williams put on a driving-to-the-basket clinic and scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter. His spurt was capped by a spectacular play during which he lost Jordan Farmar with a patented right-to-left cross-over dribble move and then scooped in a layup past 7-foot Andrew Bynum while being fouled.
Williams sank the free throw to put the Jazz up 88-71 with nine minutes remaining.
"That was great," said Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer. "That got us going, got our crowd going, gave us a little bit of momentum."
Williams then helped the Jazz fend off an ensuing 6-0 Lakers' run by grabbing a long offensive rebound and setting up Paul Millsap for an inside bucket to restore order.
Sloan prefers resting Williams at the beginning of the fourth, but he was certainly happy he made an exception on this night.
"He's a great player. He needs to be on the floor in these games," Sloan said. "I wouldn't go through the whole season doing that. This is a game at home. It's important to what we're trying to do and what we're trying to move forward, and he's the guy that helps us to do that."
Williams, who ended up playing his usual 40 minutes, didn't mind the switch. Especially because it helped the Jazz avoid a late-game collapse, which happened when the Lakers went on a 20-0 run in the fourth quarter to rout Utah earlier this week.
"I didn't really want to let them get on a run because that's what they did last game," Williams said. "So I kind of wanted to be aggressive. I was happy coach put me back in so early."7 comments on this story
For his part, Maynor enjoyed the show from the sideline.
"He's a great player and makes big plays," Maynor said. "And that's what we needed tonight, and that's what he was able to do."
As for those MVP chants, Williams definitely heard 'em.
"Yeah," he said. "And I always miss when they do that."
Williams did have a strong fourth, scoring nine of his points with three assists. But he also missed two of his five free-throw attempts in the quarter.
The Jazz will forgive him, of course.