LOS ANGELES All the talk heading into Wednesday night's Game 5 was about Kobe Bryant's bad back, injured in last Sunday's Game 4 in Utah.
All the talk afterward will be about how the Los Angeles Lakers are back atop, leading the best-of-seven NBA Western Conference semifinal playoff series 3-2 following their 111-104 victory late Wednesday night at Staples Center.
They did it with total team effort, as an ailing Bryant took care of his fair share scoring a team-high 26 points and dishing seven assists, but taking just 10 shots (with six makes) from the field and left the rest to the likes of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
"It's tough," Jazz All-Star Carlos Boozer said of those two, "because sometimes you're helping so much on Kobe.
"We have to do a better job of keeping Kobe in front, so we don't have to help as much," he added. "But that's a tall task. He's a very good player, whether he has a bad back or not."
Thirteen of Bryant's points came from 17 free-throw attempts.
"Any time you start the ball game off with a great player knowing he'll have 17, 18 free throws," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, "that's a very difficult thing for any team to play against.
"But that's who he is," Sloan added. "I'm not taking anything away. He's a great player but we have to do better than giving him those situations, and that's easier said than done."
Gasol delivered the dagger, first using a lay-in floater to make it 105-102 after Utah had cut the Laker lead to one with Mehmet Okur's follow of a Deron Williams miss, then dunking home the rebound of a Sasha Vujacic trey try from the left corner.
Gasol rose above Jazz big men Okur and Boozer as Vujacic's long-distance shot rimmed out, and with that Lakers were up by five with 20.5 seconds to go.
"I thought it was a push-off," Boozer said. "I've been called for that a couple times this series. I know it's down the stretch of a big game, winning time, but sometimes you want the referees to let players play.
"I think that was a situation tonight, they wanted us to just let the players win the game," he added. "And even though I thought he (Gasol) did push off Memo (Okur), put Memo under the hoop, easy dunk. But sometimes that's how physical it's gonna be."
Williams missed a trey try coming out of a timeout after Gasol's dunk, and Bryant polished things off, hitting 3-of-4 freebies in the final 10.7 seconds
Odom finished with a 22-point, 11-rebound double-double and Gasol added 21 points as the West's No. 1-seeded Lakers, heading into Friday night's Game 6 at EnergySolutions Arena, moved to within one victory of the Western Conference finals.
Williams (game-high 27 points, game-high 10 assists), Boozer (18 points, 12 boards) and Okur (13 points, game-high rebounds) all posted double-doubles for the No. 4 seed Jazz, who never did lead Wednesday.
Down by seven points at the break, the Jazz did tie the game three times in the third quarter at 69 with a Williams 3-pointer, at 73 with a Ronnie Brewer-fed layup by Boozer, and at 81 heading into the fourth after backup point guard Ronnie Price drove for a layup with 8.4 seconds remaining in the period.
But they played from behind for much of the second half, thanks in large part to a rough opening half in which Utah never led.
Blame or credit, depending on one's perspective a certain MVP for that.
Though he wasn't exactly driving aggressively to the basket, Bryant did come out firing.
He hit both a 3-pointer and a short jumper in the game's first minute, and had seven of the Lakers' first 13 points.
Bryant didn't really overexert himself on the defensive end, and his match, Brewer, scored Utah's first eight points.
By the time the opening half was done, though, Bryant had 13 with 4-for-7 field shooting and the Lakers had a 61-54 lead, boosted as well by 15 points from Gasol.
"We couldn't get over the hump," Sloan said. "We were right there, but never did get there."
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