Game 4, the second game of this series to be played in Utah, takes place tonight, and in the the eyes of many, the result should be all but guaranteed. In fact, many have felt certain for quite some time that tonight's game would be a win, regardless of the result of Game 3 — myself included.
If they had won Game 3, tonight would have been a chance to eliminate the Jazz, and one can only hope that the Lakers will be motivated when such an opportunity does present itself. Alas, the Jazz took the first game in Utah, but that should provide the Lakers with even more motivation. They have played at times as though they were bored by this series; having now lost a game, surely their interest has been renewed.
Though Game 3 went into the loss column and was, in the eyes of many, a complete disaster, it's interesting to look at how close the Lakers were to a win despite playing so very poorly. Consider the following:
- Kobe Bryant shot 5-24, and in general, had one of the worst playoff games of his career.
- Pau Gasol hit only four of 10 free throws, despite shooting 78 percent from the line this season.
- Trevor Ariza shot only 3-9, and had zero steals and zero blocks.
- Andrew Bynum played only seven minutes, had five fouls, and totaled only four points and two rebounds.
- Luke Walton played eight minutes, but had zero assists and zero rebounds, and did not score.
- Kobe took just four of his 24 shots from inside the painted area.
- The Lakers as a team shot 36.8 percent from the field.
- They totaled only 15 assists on 32 baskets — far below average for the best passing team in the league.
- The top rebounding team in the league, they were beat on the boards by 15 rebounds.
- They shot only 61.5 percent from the free throw line.
- They forced six more turnovers than the Jazz, but only managed to cash in on three more points off of turnovers.
- Overall, they played horrendously for three out of four quarters, with their only decent stretch being the first 10 minutes of the third — during which time, they built a 13-point lead, only to start giving it away with two minutes left in the period.
- During the Jazz' fourth quarter comeback, in which they eventually grabbed the lead, Matt Harpring, of all people, was the key offensive factor.
- Boozer totaled 23 points and 22 rebounds, including 16 rebounds in the first half.
Despite all of this — and despite playing in Utah, on the toughest home court in the league — they tied the game with 11 seconds to go, and lost by two on a tough fall-away shot by Deron Williams.
Though the result was a loss, the circumstances have to be encouraging. It required a veritable perfect storm for the Jazz to pull off a last second, two-point victory. The likelihood of the Lakers being this bad again, in this many ways, is extremely slim. Had they improved to their average in just one of any of the above areas, the result would likely have been a win.
Above it all, tonight — having lost a game they should have won, and having gotten a taste of the challenge that is playing in Utah — they should be motivated for the first time since well before the playoffs began. Game 3 will serve to them as a sort of wake-up call, and a motivated, intense Lakers team will show up for Game 4.
Don't expect a perfect game. It's likely that the Lakers will jump out to a large lead early in the game, so don't be surprised if they let up a little once they build a 15- or 20-point lead. The key, however, will be to dominate the beginnings of both halves, as that will keep the Utah crowd fairly silent and minimize them as a factor. Jump out to an early lead, and then squash any hopes of a comeback to start the second half, and the Jazz will struggle to find the energy and inspiration to fuel a run.
Combine that with the fact that the Jazz are simply that much less talented — they have to play very well, at home, to keep the game close, whereas the Lakers have to play very poorly, on the road, to do the same — and it is hard to see how Utah could have very much hope going into this game. The talent gap is large enough that if the Lakers play well at all, and improve on the laundry list of failures listed above, the Jazz will simply have a hard time keeping up.
Let's hope a Game 3 loss in Utah, with another road game about to start, provides LA with the motivation they have been lacking. If it doesn't, then it may finally be time to start worrying about this team's championship hopes.