Jazz 104, Lakers 99
Welcome to the playoffs, Carlos Boozer. After totaling 25 points and 19 rebounds in the first two games of Utah's series with the L.A. Lakers, both losses, Boozer had 27 points and 20 rebounds Friday in Game Three at EnergySolutions Arena. The result was a 104-99 Jazz victory that got Utah back in the series. For Boozer, the 20-20 game was in marked contrast to his rough postseason, which previously saw him score 20 points just once (an even 20 in the first game against Houston) despite averaging 21.1 a night in the regular season.
After putting together a solid first half, Boozer gained confidence and was a force by crunch time, helping the Jazz hold off a Lakers run that got the visitors within three at 95-92 with 3:22 to play. Boozer answered with the next six points to push the advantage back to nine. The Lakers had one last run in them, taking possession down four with 20 seconds to play, but they were unable to secure possession of a jump ball and that was that.
Feeding off of the home crowd, Utah was able to reverse its trend of bad starts at the Staples Center. This time it was the Jazz that pulled away in one of the first two quarters, outscoring the Lakers 29-20 in the second period to take a nine-point lead to the half. In turn, it was the Lakers who were forced to expend energy battling against a deficit throughout the second half.
Boozer's return to form gave Utah the combination of three high scorers, including Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams, that proved so successful during the regular season. Williams battled a sore right wrist and was relatively quiet at times, but by game's end he had still put up 18 points and 12 assists. He did a particularly good job of drawing the defense and finding Okur behind the three-point line. The big man responded with four three-pointers in seven attempts and 22 points.
The Utah offense was efficient, shooting an even 50.0% from the field. The only glitch came late in the game when the Jazz inexplicably turned the ball over on three straight possessions, allowing the Lakers back into it.
At the other end of the floor, it was a vintage Kobe Bryant performance, and that's not entirely meant as a compliment. Quiet in the first half, Bryant seemed to sense--probably correctly--that the only way the Lakers had a chance to steal the game was for him to take control. Bryant scored 26 points and got to the free-throw line 12 times in the second half, and the result was the Lakers staying close. Bryant did have a costly pair of empty possessions during the Boozer-led 6-0 run, turning the ball over and then missing a three-pointer.
The question is how Bryant's effort will translate going forward. Will he open Game Four with the mindset that he needs to win the game for the Lakers, or will he be picking his spots as he has throughout his MVP season and the Lakers' 6-0 start to the playoffs. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom didn't exactly struggle, though they had eight turnovers. Then again, they combined to get just 13 shot attempts. The Lakers had just 14 assists (seven from Bryant) on 32 field goals, a 43.8% assist rate. Just twice all season have the Lakers assisted on a lower percentage of their baskets.
The Lakers' bench was wildly hit or miss. Luke Walton scored 11 points in a solid run and Ronny Turiaf had eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. However, the backcourt of Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic combined to miss all nine of their shot attempts. Vujacic was -10 on the floor and Farmar was a -13.
One surprising aspect of Game Three was the slow pace of play, with 86 and 87 possessions a side. That's unusual for two teams who both ranked in the league's top 10 in pace during the regular season and averaged more than 90 possessions a game. Given the slow pace, it's clear the Jazz won this game with an efficient offense, not by controlling the game on defense.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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