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First Utah, Then the World


This afternoon, let's say, you sat down and listed the possible ways the Lakers could win Game Three in Utah. How far down would you've gone before you got to "Three-Point Barrage Led by Ron Artest and Derek Fisher"? On my own list, that entry would have checked in around 70th, right below "Voodoo Curse" and right above "Jazz Leave Keys to Arena at Home, Accidentally Lock Selves Out."

Tonight, Ron and Fish laugh at your probabilities! They bombed away on Utah, burying shot after shot, and the Lakers survived an unconscionable no-call in the final seconds to prevail, 111 to 110, and snag a three-games-to-zilch lead that I'm pretty sure I'm required to describe as "commanding." Do you even need to be told that no NBA team has come back from a three-zip deficit? This series is functionally over, the only question being whether the Jazz will be euthanized on Monday at the Delta Center at whatever their arena is called or on Wednesday back at Staples. Either way, bouncing the Jazz from the playoffs is fast becoming the Lakers' favorite spring tradition.

Tonight's game was badass on every level. If you missed it, you're a terrible human being who deserves to be in prison. The first quarter was ugly, with both teams honking shots in great numbers, but from the second Q onward the game was nuclear warfare. The Lakers and Jazz dropped ICBMs on each other all night and traded leads I don't know how many times. On the whole these playoffs haven't had many signature games, but this is one we'll remember. This was straight vintage.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. The Laker defense was crap tonight. Utah ripped them for 1.24 points per possession (PPP), easily the D's worst performance of the playoffs - worse even than Game Four in Oklahoma City. Some of it had to do with whistles: as we fully expected, back on their home court the Jazz benefited from some friendly officiating and shot 12 more free throws than did the Lakers. But the purple and gold bear plenty of responsibility for getting their asses lit up. Deron Williams went anywhere he wanted with the ball and scored 28 points, Carlos Boozer did some work on the offensive glass, and Paul Millsap, though he was quieter than in Game Two, chipped in an efficient 13.

The star of the night for Utah, of course, was Kyle Korver. Wait, did I type "of course"? What I meant to say is "Kyle Korver LOL WUT?!?" He was invisible bench filler in Games One and Two but blew up for 23 tonight. In addition to all the points they piled up at the stripe, Utah's three-point shooting was the big reason they came so close to pulling off this win, and Korver racked up half of their 10 moneyballs, missing nary a one.

Good thing the Laker offense is, all of a sudden, really good. Their 1.26 PPP tonight was their best output of the playoffs and makes five straight games they've scored at least 1.10 PPP. What's really bizarre is that they did it without clear superiority in the paint. Andrew Bynum was a no-show. He played 20 minutes, took only one shot and didn't score. Not sure if the knee injury incapacitated him, or if it was just one of those nights. He definitely wasn't Classic Bynum, at one point getting a dunk attempt snuffed by the nearly useless Kyrylo Fesenko.

The Lakers instead inflicted damage from long range. A team that made 34% of its threes during the regular season and only 31% in its first eight playoff games buried 13 long balls in 29 attempts. Fish and Kobe Bryant each made three of seven, and Artest responded to the ridiculous Twitter "controversy" by hitting four of seven. The Jazz elected to leave him open on the outside, which was a smart move on the percentages, but the Ronster knocked them down.

The Lakers excelled in two other key respects. First, they minimized turnovers. The Jazz forced opponent turnovers at the fifth-best rate in the league this season, but tonight the Lakers turned the pill over on less than 10% of their possessions. In the second half, they gave it up only three times on 44 trips. The return of Andrei Kirilenko helped the Jazz a bit on offense, but his much-vaunted length didn't translate into many tipped balls or steals.

Also, the Lakers had a second consecutive strong game on the offensive glass. They rebounded 34% of their own misses and converted those extra looks into 15 second-chance points. Pau Gasol was excellent, repeatedly using his height and lanky arms to tip rebounds back out to shooters. The Jazz did well on the offensive boards too, collecting 35% of their own misses, but they wasted too many of their extra looks. Their 16 offensive boards led to only 11 second-chance points.

The ending of this game was pretty insane. The teams traded baskets and the lead until there were seven seconds left, when Boozer missed a layup with the Jazz down a point. Kobe pulled in the rebound, was fouled and hit the two free throws. Now up three, the Lakers do what they never do: foul intentionally. Fish took a foul to send Williams to the free-throw line. I've not yet heard whether that was his decision or Phil Jackson's, but in any event, Williams hit the throws to make the lead one again.

After a timeout to advance the ball, Artest attempted an inbounds pass to Fish. As Fish ran to meet the pass, Wesley Matthews wrapped two arms around his waist, letting the ball roll free to Korver. To our great dismay, this incredibly obvious foul drew no whistle. It was an egregious omission that gave Utah a chance to steal the win. On their final possession, however, Williams missed a long jump shot, and Matthews couldn't convert on the tip-in. Time up. Game over.

Had either of those shots fallen, this would have been an all-timer of a bitter loss. Instead, the Lakers can look forward to a possible sweep and, one hopes, a little rest. The NBA's Final Four awaits.











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