Fresh off of a difficult opening round series against Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Lakers got off to a solid start in the Western Conference semifinals, taking Game 1 over the Utah Jazz.
“It was tough,” remarked Kobe Bryant after the game. “But when it got really tough for me, I just checked myself in.”
On the night, Bryant had 31 points, 11 of which came in the games’ last four minutes, as he spearheaded a Laker comeback, ensuring that they would not lose home court advantage despite blowing a lead early in the fourth quarter.
Pau Gasol got in on the act as well, with 25 points to go along with 12 rebounds. He was also a force on the defensive end of the court, tabbing five blocked shots.
It was Bryant however that put the Lakers on his back, per the usual. With Utah up by four points, Bryant went on a 7-0 by himself to erase the lead and put L.A in front for good.
The Lakers defense then stepped up and allowed only one made-shot by the Jazz with 4:10 remaining.
“We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole and let them gain all the momentum,” Bryant said after the game. “At that point, you’ve just got to buckle down.”
Even with the win, the Lakers are concerned about their ability to keep building leads once they get them, and not allow teams to climb their way back in.
“We want to make sure we work and we put more effort into keeping leads and building on leads and stretching the games out,” Gasol said after the game. “It’s always a little bit frustrating when you lose leads and you’re on the bench and you can’t do anything. It happens hopefully not very often, but we got stagnant. Guys weren’t sharp out there.”
On the other side of the court, the Jazz were led by Daron Williams, who scored 24 points. Utah has now lost 15 consecutive games against the Lakers on the road.
“We got a little rattled coming down the stretch — put up some shots, they just didn’t fall,” said Paul Millsap. “We’re not playing to get close. We’re playing to win the game.”
Carlos Boozer tabbed a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while C.J Miles contributed 16 points. Miles made several big shots en route to Utah taking the lead, but failed to do so in the final minutes.
“It is kind of repetitive,” remarked Williams “We had a chance to win this game, but we couldn’t make the plays down the stretch. Kobe made some unbelievable shots, and that was pretty much it.”
Online Sportsbooks have the Lakers with odds at 11/4 to win the 2010 NBA Championship, and the Spurs at 25/1.