Del Harris was wrong. Game 3 was the time to re-invent the Los Angeles Lakers.
Showtime flickered but fizzled Friday night at the Great Western Forum as the Lakers fell into what has proven to be an unrecoverable NBA playoff situation. Utah's 109-98 victory gave the Jazz a 3-0 advantage in the Western Conference finals.Harris, who refused to change his line-up or offensive scheme despite pressure from fans and the media after Utah won the first two games of the series, hoped to leave the court vindicated.
"Everbody kind of wants you to re-invent a way to play after you lose two games," Harris said. "What we (needed) to do is just come home, take care of our business here and play our normal game."
After winning 61 games in the regular season and splitting six previous meetings with the Jazz, Harris was confident his squad wouldn't forget what got them to this point.
"We just need to play Laker ball," he added. " . . . The best thing to do in a pressure situation is to do what you do best. Go to the stuff that you know."
For L.A., that means a fast-paced tempo with frenzied activity on both ends of the floor. It took the Lakers just three minutes to force three Jazz turnovers and grab a 9-2 lead. The pace was set early, or so it seemed.
Despite attempting more shots (at times by a 2-1 margin), Los Angeles couldn't keep up with itself. Utah's more deliberate style eventually took over. The Jazz built a lead as large as 10 points before settling for a 49-43 edge at halftime. Showtime's lights were dimmed by 37 percent shooting. Eddie Jones led the misfirings by going 1-of-10. Fellow guards Nick Van Exel and Derek Fisher added to the misery by combining for 2-of-7 accuracy.
The situation improved enough in the third quarter as to allow the Lakers to hold one-point leads on two occasions. It also put L.A. in position to prove Harris accurate in attributes he used to describe his team. Namely, that they could take care of the basketball and play well in the fourth quarter - skills not shown in the first two games of the series.
Trailing 74-71, the Lakers went about meeting the expectations. Expectations that in the end, were never met.
It didn't take long to make that clear. Kobe Bryant turned the ball over on L.A.'s first possession to serve as a precursor of things to come. Shaquille O'Neal, who fouled out after scoring a game-high 39 points, kept the Lakers close with his inside play. He couldn't, however, get his team over the hump.
O'Neal scored to make it 86-85 entering the final six minutes, but the Jazz pulled away down the stretch. Utah simply had too many weapons (Karl Malone, Bryon Russell and Shandon Anderson just to name a few) to counter L.A.'s weary big man. Utah has now outscored Los Angeles 85-63 in the fourth quarters of the three games.
Though Los Angeles can force a fifth game in Salt Lake City with a win Sunday, history says the series is over. No team has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit.
And as if things weren't bad enough for the Lakers, more data of doom.
For starters, no team has ever won the Western Conference finals after trailing 2-0. In fact, only seven teams in NBA playoff history have ever come back to win a series after losing the first two games. Los Angeles is one of the comeback kings, but that was way back in 1969.
And lastly, L.A. must find a way to end a lengthy Utah winning streak. Though they've never swept a seven-game set, the Jazz have won eight straight playoff series in which they've held 2-0 advantages.