LOS ANGELES Compared to the first two, the Jazz played drastically different in the last couple of games of their NBA Western Conference semifinal playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Reasons cited for the sudden revival going from down 0-2 to tied at 2 in the best-of-seven series that resumes with Game 5 tonight at the Staples Center here have been bountiful.
"It seems like we played much harder," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said prior to practice Tuesday. "I don't know if it's because of the fans, or what."
Effort and aggressiveness, then.
And the comfort of home, where Utah is 41-5 this regular season and postseason.
It's a list that goes on and on, from better starts to the benefit of calls they might not get on the road to the bad back NBA MVP Kobe Bryant developed in Sunday's Game 4 overtime win for the Jazz an injury, by the way, that is not expected to keep him out of Game 5 tonight.
Beyond all that, though, there is a simple matter of X's and O's that has spelled success for Utah as the series has developed.
The Jazz finally are figuring out L.A.'s defense of their patented pick-and-roll, and never was that reality more evident than in overtime on Sunday.
When the Lakers twice overplayed All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer early in OT, point guard Deron Williams twice found center Mehmet Okur for long jumpers.
When they dared to do it again, Williams popped a final-minute pass to small forward Andrei Kirilenko that resulted in not only a reverse dunk but also an ensuing free throw.
"We had like three possessions in a row when Deron and Carlos were playing pick-and-roll," Kirilenko said, "and they've been paying so much attention to the pick-and-roll so we need to have a guy that's flashing out, flashing in and getting layups."
Boozer didn't score at all in overtime, but it was mission accomplished which is Sloan really wants.
"The idea," he said, "is to win the game."
And the Jazz, at least in the last two, have been winning a critical game within the game.
They're seeing right through the Lakers' defense.
And they're figuring out, as their coach routinely deems so important, how to execute options B and C when A is taken away.
"If you can only get to A in the playoffs," Sloan said, "you're probably going to have a difficult time."
The Jazz, however, used the weekend to prove they can play beyond even P-and-R.
"They push the pick-and-roll. Sometimes they push it toward the baseline," Boozer said. "What they always do is they bring a weak-side guy, or sometimes two weak-side men from the other side over, to try to eliminate me and D-Will's pick-and-roll, to make somebody else have to score the ball on that particular play."
"We run pick-and-rolls, they got everybody inside the lane," Williams added. "It's like they're trying to take that away from (Boozer) and make us do something else."
So the Jazz do.
Williams and Boozer set up for a two-man game on one side of the floor.
And on the other Okur, a long distance-shooting big man finds one of his favorite spots out on the perimeter. Shooting guard Kyle Korver, at the close of games, drifts to the corner. And Kirilenko cuts, waiting for a dish like the one Williams delivered with 35.5 seconds remaining in the extra session Sunday.
"If there are two people that are guarding one ball, that means somebody's wide open," Boozer said. "So we hit the open man, and they have to make a play.
"Other guys have to hit shots," he added. "We're gonna swing the ball to the open man."
Another option is for Boozer to slip early rather than hold the pick, and hope for a quick layup before rotation from the weak side can catch up.
On all fronts, it seemed to be working not only Sunday, but also in last Friday's Game 3 victory for the Jazz.
Now if only they can carry it on tonight in L.A., Sloan will be even prouder than he already seems to be.
"If we do things right, and do the things that we would like to do and make the adjustments that we have to make as the game goes on," the Jazz coach said, "then I think they feel very confident."I feel very confident that we can play against anybody," Sloan added. "I think we've proven that all year long if we do some things that we have to do."
Series tied 2-2
GAME 1 Lakers 109, Jazz 98
GAME 2 Lakers 120, Jazz 110
GAME 3 Jazz 104, Lakers 99
GAME 4 Jazz 123, Lakers 115 (OT)
GAME 5 Today, at L.A., 8:30 p.m.
GAME 6 Friday, at Utah, 8:30 p.m.,
* if necessary
E-mail: [email protected]