It had been a while three games to be exact since we've seen the Lakers play lights out in the first quarter in the Western Conference semifinals against the Jazz.
That spelled doom for Utah on Friday night.
The Lakers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter, and then withstood a remarkable late rally by the Jazz to prevail 108-105 in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. Los Angeles ended Utah's season and will now face the winner of the San Antonio-New Orleans series, which will be decided with a Game 7 on Monday night.
The Lakers never trailed the Jazz in Game 6. They scored the game's first seven points and led 30-14 less than 10 minutes into the contest. Kobe Bryant, showing no ill effects from the back injury he suffered in Sunday's Game 4, was the catalyst for Los Angeles' quick start, as he scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds. Not surprisingly, he continued to haunt the Jazz from the free-throw line, as he made all of his four foul-shot attempts in the first quarter.
Los Angeles' quick start was reminiscent of how it played in the first two games of the series. The Lakers averaged 58.5 points in the first half of the first two games. Those numbers weren't surprising then, however, because the two games were played in Los Angeles. With Utah in a win-or-go-home situation on Friday, the 62 points scored by the Lakers in the first half on Friday were stunning.
Los Angeles hardly had to break a sweat until Utah made a run midway through the fourth quarter. The Jazz got within seven points three times before the final minute of the game. The Lakers allowed the Jazz to get within three when Andrei Kirilenko made a 3-pointer with 23.9 seconds left in the game, and within two when Kirilenko sank another 3-pointer with 15.5 seconds remaining.
By then, however, it was too little, too late. The Lakers built themselves enough of a cushion in the first half, and made their free throws down the stretch to put the game away. They also held their breath as Mehmet Okur missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the game.
Bryant made some key plays to keep Los Angeles in control in the fourth. His 3-pointer over Matt Harpring with 4:55 left in the game gave the Lakers a 96-86 lead. He then converted a three-point play with 4:21 remaining to put Los Angeles comfortably up by 13.
Bryant, who finished with 34 points and eight rebounds, started strong and made the game-clinching plays, but he didn't eliminate the Jazz by himself. The Lakers got a balanced scoring effort, with six different players reaching double figures. Pau Gasol had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Derek Fisher had 16 points. Lamar Odom scored 13 points, and sank two free throws after Kirilenko's 3-pointer got the Jazz within three points.The Lakers are in for a tough series in the Western Conference finals no matter which team they end up playing. They split their season series with both the Hornets and Spurs.
E-mail: [email protected]