If it wasn’t clear before the series started, it is now – the Lakers are just a better team than the Jazz. The advantages in size, length, and quickness in the front court and the presence of a rejuvenated Kobe Bryant in the back court once again proved too much for Utah to handle in game 2 as the Lakers took down the Jazz 111-103 to take a two games to zero lead in this western conference semi final.
Even though the Lakers pretty much cruised to their second win in as many tries, the game didn’t start out with the same feel as game one. Utah was the aggressor early and took the lead on the hot outside shooting of Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews. Those two combined to make their first three attempts from behind the arc, sparking the Jazz offense. The Jazz just looked quicker to the ball from the outset and played with a sense of urgency that the Lakes had difficulty matching in the opening minutes.
However, that’s about as positive as it got for the Jazz on this evening (besides the strong performance from Millsap and a late game run that is seemingly a staple of these Lakers/Jazz games). And that’s because the things that the Jazz want to do well – execute their offense, score inside, take advantage of their perimeter star’s advantage against weaker defenders – the Lakers can do better. And that, in a nutshell is what this series is about.
It’s as plain as day just by examining the box score. Because even on a night where Boozer and Millsap combine for 46 points (on 38 shots) and 33 rebounds (12 offensive), the Lakers trio of big men (Gasol/Bynum/Odom) were more efficient and simply better as they combined for 50 points (on only 24 shots!) and grab 44 rebounds (13 offensive). And on a night where Deron Williams gets held relatively in check with a line of 15 points and 9 assists, Kobe goes for 30 points and 8 assists of his own. When your best players get out performed by the other teams best players at the level that the Jazz did, a loss will ensue nearly every time. The only time that it won’t be the case is when a role player (or two) have such fantastic games that it balances out and tonight the Jazz just didn’t have enough from those secondary players. Sure CJ Miles’ 20 points look good, but Ron Artest essentially matched that with 17 of his own.
The Lakers were just too good at too many positions tonight. Kobe was excellent on the low block and played the facilitator role perfectly for most of this game. He was able to back down whatever defender the Jazz threw at him to the point that a second defender was forced to at least come over and help (if not double him entirely). And when that second defender did rotate, Kobe was ready with a pin point pass to a cutter along the baseline or a flashing big into the paint to set up an easy shot. Or, he’d just shoot and score if the defense gave him enough space. #24 was just masterful. And when it wasn’t Kobe, it was Gasol showing off all facets of his offensive game. Whether it was the jump hook (with either hand), a spinning jumper off a curl, or a deep fade away jumper with the clock running down, Pau was magnificent on offense. You throw in Bynum looking much healthier than in game 1 and a return of the aggressive Odom and you have what (longtime FB&G’er) JD Hastings called “the closest blowout (he’s) ever seen”.
And so, here we are again. For the third straight year, the Jazz trail the Lakers 2-0 in a playoff series and they’re searching for answers on how to get a win. Maybe they’ll try to ugly up the game or play more physical or maybe Williams explodes, but in the end will it matter? I’m not trying to say that this series is over, but the Lakers are halfway home to getting the necessary 4 wins and the Jazz don’t look any closer to a series win than in any of the other years that they’ve been down in a series against LA. Especially when considering their injury situation with Okur being out and Kirilenko – though likely to be back in game 3 – surely not 100% physically. It’s just looking less and less likely that they’ll survive. They’ll get a win I’m sure, and maybe even two. But can they win 4 of the next 5? You tell me.
Some other stats from this game (good and bad):
*Utah only shot 39.6% from the field (47.5% true shooting) and had an offensive rating of 105. Those are very good numbers considering that the Jazz shot 49.1% (56.5% true shooting) with an offensive rating of 108 during the regular season. If the Lakers can continue this level of defense while also keeping the Jazz off the foul line (and force a few more turnovers), it will be tough for Utah to win a game.
*The flip side to that coin is how the Lakers offense performed. 58.5% true shooting with a 113 offensive rating for the Lakers. Plus they had 26 assists on their 40 made baskets. These are numbers consistent with last year’s offensive juggernaut. It helps that Utah doesn’t have a shot blocker to deter Kobe’s drives to the basket while also lacking the size to effectively deal with our bigs, but I’m still impressed.
*Everything wasn’t positive for the Lakers as they had 20 turnovers in this game, including 7 by Kobe. As Phil Jackson said after the game the Lakers “didn’t seem prepared for the aggressiveness from the Jazz” and Kobe “was maybe a bit careless with the ball”. And while he also explained that the Jazz were determined to not let the Lakers just dribble in front of them without making a play on the ball, the Lakers must still be more conscientious while in possession of the ball. Obviously, the Lakers still proved that they can win with that number of miscues, but this is something to monitor as this series changes venues and the tenor of the series changes to a raucous Energy Solutions Arena.
*Jordan Farmar seems really out of sorts. He had six points on six shots (both on three pointers), didn’t run the offense well, didn’t attempt a FT, and was out of control on a couple of drives in the fourth quarter. And if you follow Kevin Ding on twitter (and if you don’t, you should) you’d also know that on more than one occasion LO had words with Farmar about what he was doing while on the court. Not Jordan’s best night tonight, for sure. Phil continues to give him minutes (which I understand, we’ll need Farmar in this playoff run), but the Lakers will also need him to be under control. Tonight, he wasn’t and his performance was eerily similar to what the bench showed in the last game when they gave up the lead. In fact, the Lakers were well on their way to letting their 4th quarter lead slip away again before Phil pulled Jordan and went back to Fisher.