Wow. Wow. Wow.
It’s pretty rare that fans get treated to a game like this. It seemingly had it all. Shot making duels. Unlikely players stepping up. Multiple lead changes in the closing minutes. Crunch time heroics. And there was even a last second play that decided the outcome. Honestly, this is one game that will live in my memory (and my DVR) for some time.
The Lakers now control this series after winning game three 111-110. On a night where the Jazz fought as hard as possible, the Lakers were still able to pull out the win. And when you look at the box score, it’s difficult to figure out how the Lakers came out on top. The Lakers lost nearly every statistical category. They were out rebounded, had less assists, shot less free throws, and were outscored on the fast break 10-3. They tied the Jazz with 32 points in the paint (a stat they typically own against Utah). The Lakers bigs were pretty much held in check as Bynum went scoreless with only 4 rebounds and Odom and Gasol combined for only 22 points.
But, they made shots when it mattered. Kobe had 35 points on 24 shots, none bigger than a game tying three pointer with only a minute left in the game. He also had the Lakers first 9 points of the game and 20 in the first half to keep the Lakers afloat when they were having trouble establishing their post game (a theme all night). If it wasn’t safe to say it before this game, it is now: Kobe is back. This is now the 4th straight game with 30 or more points for #24 and he only looks to be getting stronger and more healthy as the playoffs continue. Good news for the Lakers and bad, bad news for everyone else.
Derek Fisher continued his playoff renaissance by throwing up a 20 spot on only 13 FGA’s, including a three pointer that put the Lakers up by one point with only 28 seconds left. I know it’s been easy to bash Fisher this year. But, so far these playoffs he’s been our 3rd most consistent player (behind Kobe and Pau) and has shown us once again what clutch play looks like and how a veteran with his reputation can never truly be counted out. Even in this game he had some bad misses (including an early three pointer where someone obviously opened the door on him as a big gust of wind pushed his shot about a foot to the left of the rim), but he continued to stay in the flow of the game and shoot with confidence. (On a side note, ESPNLA’s Arash Markazi tweeted that before half time there were fans that were crossing the line with their taunts of Fisher to the point that Fish responded to them with some yells back at them. Needless to say, I think Fish was pretty motivated in the second half of this game.)
But the biggest shot maker of them all might have been Ron Artest. Out of all the Lakers, I think we could all agree that Ron would be the least likely to explode on offense, but tonight he did just that. Just like Fisher, Ron scored 20 big points on only 13 shots and hit 4 three pointers on the evening. Gone was the hesitation and inserted was an aggressive player that seemed to thrive on the fact that the Jazz just didn’t respect his ability to score the ball. On one specific play, Ron grabbed an offensive rebound, dribbled to the wing and then sought out a three point shot from the corner (that he buried) as no Jazz player followed him. Whether this was some sort of response to the twitter controversy from the past two days we’ll never know, but Ron certainly quieted some of his critics and showed that he’s still quite capable of putting the ball in the basket.
But to only focus on the Lakers would be doing this game a grave injustice. The Jazz were fantastic tonight and just fell short. They had multiple players step up their games and give an effort that was worthy of a victory.
First in line was Deron Williams. Over the past couple days we’ve talked about the need for Deron to have a great game for the Jazz to be able to win. Tonight he did his dambdest to do just that. Williams had 28 points on only 13 shots(!) and 9 assists and led the Jazz as far as he could possibly take them. He made 3 three pointers and 13 of his 14 FT attempts and was a menace with the ball in his hands all night. With the game tied at 106 (after the aforementioned 3 pointer by Kobe that tied the game with a minute left), Deron brought the ball up court, weaved his way through traffic, and calmly nailed a 17 foot baseline jumper to put the Jazz up by 2. The only thing that could even remotely be considered a blemish on his performance was the fact that he couldn’t create a better last second shot to win the game as he ended up taking a 2o foot jump shot with 4 seconds left and the Jazz trailing by a single point. But even on that play, he did a great job of shaking free from Artest with a fantastic crossover dribble to create just enough space to get a clean look. After the game he admitted that he’d liked to have gotten a bit deeper but he saw Ron stumble backwards and didn’t want to allow him time to recover back to contest the shot.
Then there was Kyle Korver and his virtuoso shooting performance. Korver was just red hot the entire evening shooting 9-10 from the field and 5-5 from behind the arc. He finished the night with 23 points and made the Lakers pay every time they gave him some space to shoot. At one point, Korver was matching Artest shot for shot and was single handedly keeping the Jazz alive with his shot making. From Utah’s perspective, it’s a shame that a performance like that went to waste. It’s rare to see a shooter locked in the way that Korver was and when it’s not happening against the team that you root for it’s quite a beautiful thing to see.
Words can’t really do this game justice. Besides the efforts of the players described above, there was the final play of the game where Deron missed that last second shot but the Jazz still had a chance to win as Kobe failed to box out his man and Wesley Matthews got a point blank tip in that hung on the rim for what seemed like a minute before sliding off as the buzzer sounded. Or the play that set up the Jazz’s last possession where Artest’s inbound pass got stolen as Fisher tried to come to the ball, got held (but with no foul getting called), and the Jazz come up with a steal to give them that one last chance. Not to mention how Gasol came alive in the 2nd half by making several key jumpers and grabbing multiple rebounds or how Odom single handedly turned a 4 point Lakers deficit into a 1 point lead by making two clutch free throws and then nailing a dagger three on back to back possessions. I really can’t think of another game this season where details like these would get buried at the end of a recap, but this game was just that good.
In the end, I know that the only thing that matters is the Lakers won the game but honestly this one would have been a joy to watch even if that wasn’t the case. In a battle like this, neither team deserves to lose. But the rules of the game state that one team must leave the arena defeated and for the third consecutive time in three games that team is the Jazz. And now, on Monday, the Lakers have the chance at closing out this series and advancing to the western conference finals for the third straight year. Think about that for one second and then feel good Lakers fans. And if you have this game on your DVR, go watch it again. (Or just enjoy the highlights below – Lakers only highlights, I should say.)