Lakers/Jazz Game 1 Recap
Career game from Ariza ignites Lakers.
by Nima Zarrabi
Orange County—Pulling off the 110 freeway headed toward Staples Center was an easy task back in the day, even for a visitor from another city. You could see that purple monster from nearly any vantage point off one of the main Staples exits. But downtown has changed. There are fresh new buildings crowding Staples these days, highlighted by the Nokia Theatre right across the street, the new home of the Espys. I should be enjoying some of the new downtown sights but unfortunately, I am stuck in Orange County thanks to unforeseen circumstances, unable to take advantage of the media credential in my name, granted by Lakers PR. Sadly, rather than enjoy this contest live from Staples, I am stuck with Van Gundy, Jackson and Breen on HD.
The Lakers vulnerability at point guard in this series seems to come into focus from the jump as Jazz PG Deron Williams starts the game by running Lakers PG Derek Fisher all over the court, drawing two quick fouls on him. Surprisingly, Phil Jackson opts for Shannon Brown over Jordan Farmar to replace Fisher. Trevor Ariza gets the triangle moving by nailing his first couple threes. Brown’s energy is apparent right away and the Lakers are off and running. I figured Kobe Bean Bryant would come out gunning after hearing everyone gush about Derek Rose and King James’ performances the previous day. Surely he was posting up in his Newport Coast villa watching and plotting, right? Wrong. Bryant doesn’t attempt a shot until the four-minute mark of the 1st. He plays the distributor role early on and his teammates aren’t letting him down. The Jazz sorely miss Mehmet Okur, who is sitting out the game with a sore hamstring. The Lake show leads 30-19 at the end of the 1st after shooting 70 percent from the floor.
Do we really need Lisa Salters to interview Jerry Sloan between quarters? The coaches clearly don’t want to do this crap and the standard Q + A that comes forward is hardly insightful. During the quarter, the broadcast team brings up an interesting scenario for the Jazz next season regarding Carlos Boozer and Paul Milsap. Boozer is likely to opt out of a contract scheduled to pay him just under $13 million next season. Milsap will be a restricted free agent and expecting a hefty raise after clearing just under $800k this season. It is unlikely that Utah will be able to retain both. Who would you keep? Utah plays better in the 2nd, cutting the Lakers lead to 10 at one point but Bryant eventually takes over, coasting to 9 straight points near the end of the half. The MVP chants start soon after, and the Lakers cruise to a 62-40 halftime lead.
Bryant, rocking a Patrick Ewing-esque sweat from his recent scoring stanza, is stopped for a few meaningless questions from Salters. Nearly out of breath, he answers them and then the camera follows him to the tunnel where Vanessa Bryant is waiting. Kobe gives his wife a quick kiss before heading into the locker room.
The Lakers come out a bit slow in the 3rd and the Jazz finally start hitting shots and put together their best quarter behind Boozer and Jarron Collins. The Jazz outscore the Lakers 33-24 for the quarter and have their moments. They cut the Lakers lead to 11 with just under three minutes remaining but a lazy pass by Boozer ends with a spectacular up and under dunk by Ariza on the other end, exciting the crowd.
An emotionless Ariza continues to hit amazing shots for the Lakers and is headed for a career night. Williams can’t find his shooting touch for Utah, but drops dimes on the regular and the Jazz get to within 9 after Andrei Kirilenko knocks down a triple with 5:43 left. Soon after, Kirilenko picks Kobe clean on the defensive end and heads for what appears to be a contested lay-up before throwing the ball away, ending any Jazz comeback. With less than two minutes left, Bryant cuts through the lane and puts down a nice dunk on Milsap, whose half-hearted effort results in a foul. With seconds left, it appears that the Lakers have a chance to hold the Jazz under 100 points, leading to chants of free tacos from the fans. When the Lakers keep opponents under 100 points at home, fans leave Staples with coupons for two free tacos at Jack in the Box. Van Gundy makes a comment about the chants diminishing the game. He doesn’t know how good those tacos are. Soon after, a Williams lay-up kills the taco chants and the game ends in a 113-100 Lakers win. Despite keeping Bryant under 30 points, the Jazz never had a shot at this one. They will have to play much better defense and limit points from key Lakers role players if they are to have any shot in game 2.
Salters continues her Pulitzer prize winning interviews immediately after the buzzer, this time with Bryant and Ariza. After a few clichés from Bryant, she begins talking to Ariza and the camera cuts to Bryant walking toward the tunnel again, where he drops another kiss on Vanessa before the picture cuts away.
The interviews after the game consist of the standard fare. Jerry Sloan basically calls his team soft and Phil complains about a sluggish third quarter by the Lakers. Bryant was expressionless and gave short answers during his post game presser, but he did look sharp in a sparkling white suit, accessorized nicely with a glacier-sized yellow canary diamond in his ear.