Cold-blooded. Clutch. Closer. These are the three C’s that make up Kobe Bryant, but in the grand scheme that is the NBA Playoffs, Bryant rarely goes after the kill alone. Always lurking behind the deadly Mamba is one bulldog named Derek Fisher.
Phil Jackson noted that the Utah Jazz took away the Lakers’ post-game. Andrew Bynum’s only field goal attempt was blocked by Krylo Fresenko, and Pau Gasol did not score the bulk of his 14 points until the second half.
Tonight, the Lakers’ guards reminded the Jazz that they were more than just their big men. Tonight, the Lakers’ backcourt took care of their frontcourt, scoring 69 of the team’s 111 points.
The game began just as the Jazz could hope for, with the visiting team starting 1-7 and the Lakers offense reduced to a Kobe-centric style of play. The Lakers did not dominate from inside as they had in the first two games, settling for jumper after jumper while the Jazz scored from wherever they pleased; from downtown, from mid-range, from penetration, and because they attacked the paint, from the free throw line. At the end of the first quarter, however, the field goal percentage of both teams were nothing short of paltry. The Lakers were shooting a lowly 29%, which the Jazz were not better with 33%.
Before the first half came to a close, the Lakers had gotten to within four points after having been down by 13. Kobe’s 20 first half points sure helped, and Derek Fisher did a good job getting Deron Williams into foul trouble. Jazz’s point man had collected three with just over a minute left in the second quarter.
The Lakers played from behind at the onset, but by chipping away at the Jazz double-digit lead before halftime, they took advantage in the third quarter, laying the groundwork for what was a very competitive final 24 minutes. This game was destined to wind down to the very last second, with the Lakers and Jazz trading basket after basket, reaching tie after tie, and lead change after lead change. Leading each team with their offensive onslaught were the least likely players in Kyle Korver, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher.
Kyle Korver, having yet to contribute to the series for the Jazz, began 8-8 from the field and finished with 20 points from 9-10 shooting, five of which were three-pointers.
Ron Artest, whose shooting touch, unfortunately in these playoffs, has not mirrored his defensive success, was left open by the Jazz and thankfully, Artest made them pay, hitting 4-7 from downtown.
Downtown was a popular place at Energy Solutions Arena this evening. With the Lakers down 96-100, and 2:48 minutes left in regulation, the three-ball was working for the road team. According to Bryant, the reason behind their success was the quality of the three-point shots they attempted. Rather than what Bryant called, “settling” shots, the Lakers took shots in rhythm or with feet firmly planted for the attempt.
Lamar Odom converted from downtown to make it 101-100. After the Lakers and Jazz traded 2-point baskets, Korver struck with another three, which was followed by another three from Bryant. After Deron Williams scored, Fisher followed his shot with a three of his own to make it 109-108, Lakers. Three shots from downtown in a span of about 90 seconds.
With the Lakers leading 111-108 after Bryant hits two free throws, Williams was fouled by Fisher and made two free throws of his own. On an inbounds pass that was deflected by rookie Wesley Matthews (who took down Fisher on a no-call), the Jazz obtained possession and had 6.8 seconds to score a 2-point basket to take Game 3. With Artest in Williams’ way, the guard hoisted a shot from behind the arc and missed. Matthews attempted to tip in the miss but it reached only as far as the edge of the rim and just like that, Utah is down 0-3.
This evening’s Lakers were not led by their signature of length and power inside. Tonight they were heaved at the forefront by a signature of veterans who don’t cower in close games.
Derek Fisher, surrounded by reporters outside the locker room, summed it the best, “For me, it’s always about exhausting everything that I have to do what’s best for the team. In those situations at the end of a game, when you’re down 2 or you’re down 3, or the game is tied, to step in and make a big shot like that, although I may get the credit, it’s what got the team over the hump to win the games. That’s what I live for.”
A pair of captains who know how to steer their ship and their entire crew to safety no matter how rough and dangerous the waters — who better to lead this Laker team to another championship?
Pre-Game Thoughts: Hoping the Lakers watched the other game 3’s that were played before them. All were won by the road team.
Half-Time Thoughts: 50-54. It’s been a very Kobe-centric offense for the Lakers, which is okay since he’s shooting 9-14.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Andrew Bynum seems like the most obvious choice for this category tonight based on his rather empty box score. To be fair, he didn’t receive as many touches, but he has to make his presence known in other ways, like in defense. Just four rebounds and one block. No hate here though, as long as other teammates covered.
Most Thought-Filled Player(s) of the Game: Captains, our captains! Kobe and D-Fish combined for 55 points! Who’s old and on their way down now, huh?!