So the Lakers won game one over the Jazz pretty handily. They did squander much of a 22 point halftime lead, but the game never really seemed in doubt, especially with a deadly Kobe Bryant on the floor. Of course, that did not stop Phil Jackson from having this to say:
"We're not going to win 15 games if we play like that. This is a time of the season where you look for improvement."
While he has a point in that dropping a big lead against Cleveland or Boston (who Chicago is giving all they can handle) simple would not fly, the fact remains that Utah is not either of those teams. It would be nice to see a high level of focus like we saw in the first half each for all 48, but it simply is not required against a wounded Jazz team that came into the playoffs limping. Also, we know from the regular season that the Lakers can bring it against the big boys, so I am not too worried about our play from last night, and I think PJ is just up to his usual mind games.
There is some good news buried deep within the Jazz second-half comeback, and it is that whenever they got close, the Lakers went on a run to put the game back out of reach. There was no repeat of the Clippers or Kings games from the regular season, suggesting that maybe this team (or at least Kobe) is developing that killer instinct against lesser opponents.
Now some of the positives and negatives...
- The Bench Mob broke out of their slump. They outscored the Utah bench 33-31, and everyone who played except Jordan and Sasha scored. Even with no points, Farmar looked more comfortable out there and made a nice block and great pass to Odom for a dunk. If we continue to get this kind of production off of the bench, this will be an easy series for the starters.
- Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown. Both of them had spectacular games, with TA setting a career playoff high in points and UPS having a perfect shooting night from behind the arc. Not that I would call these players X-factors, but if the Lakers are getting this kind of offensive and defensive production out of them every night, the rest of the league needs to watch out.
- Rest. All of the starters played 40 minutes or less, which will have a huge impact in later rounds. While I expect the starters on the floor more in game three, quality bench contribution will continue to be huge. We all saw what a rested Kobe did on the fourth last night.
- The Fast Start. When the Lakers jump out to a huge lead, it gives the bench more minutes and has the potential to discourage namy teams (thought obviously not the Jazz), I'd rather the other team have to play from behind for 35 minutes than be locked in a dead heat the entire game.
- Fouls. Obviously the Jazz are looking to be aggressive, and as the Lakers learned last year, you can't back down to an aggressive team. While the Lakers have plenty of bodies to throw around, foul trouble might become a concern once the series shifts to Utah. So long as the Lakers match the Jazz's intensity and continue to ge to the line themselves, I think that we will be ok.
- Carlos Boozer. I think everyone expected a big game from Deron Williams, but Boozer's offensive explosion was not something many people predicted, giving his injury status. While the Lakers were obviously able to overcome his 27 point effort, an effective Boozer could spell trouble for the Lakers if and when Mehmet Okur returns.
- Rebounding. The Lakers gave up way to many offensive and defensive rebounds, especially considering our size advantage. I think that this goes back to focus, but it is something that needs to change in a hurry.
- Blown Lead. It's never good to blow a large lead, but again I don't think that this is something to worry about. The Lakers will pick it up once the competition gets better.
All in all a very good effort from the Lakers. They were not perfect, but they did not need to be. If they play like this and continue to build momentum towards the second round, then a 15th championship will begin to look even closer.
Remember, Game 2 tips off tomorrow at 7:30 PST on TNT
Go Purple & Gold!