Kobe's FT's take Game 1 versus Jazz
With how MVP-to-be Kobe Bryant is playing right now, it will be a tall task for one of the other western conference powers to take down the Lakers. His best assets are his ability to get a good shot off whenever he wants, his propensity to dominate in the fourth quarter, and his innate ability to get to the free throw line better than anyone in the league.
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On Sunday Kobe sliced and diced the Utah Jazz to the tune of 38 points off 50% shooting from the floor and 21 out of 23 free throws, both career highs. The Jazz have a great defense but the Lakers are formidable at all 5 spots on the floor now that they have Gasol in the middle. This is not the first time Kobe has lit up the Jazz in recent times; last year he had a 52 point game and has averaged over 30 points against them the last three years including a few more 35+ point games. While the Utah Jazz play good team defense they struggle against an overpowering athletic specimen like Kobe Bryant and they really have no one at the rim to meet him unless they pit Kirilenko on him.
An efficient game from Pau Gasol helps too (18 points 10 rebounds 5 assists 2 blocks 1 turnover). You have to wonder how Gasol feels losing his twelve playoff games for the Memphis Grizzlies and now winning his first 5 (maybe more) with the LA Lakers. As if he needed a reminder...things are a bit different in Los Angeles.
The Jazz played a poor offensive game but stormed back in the second half. Their home / road splits have been well documented, as they are a nearly unbeatable team at home but have been subpar against good teams on the road. Unfortunately for them stealing a road game against LA will prove much more difficult than ailing Houston, but they must do this at some point in this series if they hope to continue on. Since Kobe had so many free throws it was obvious that Utah was racking up fouls at an outstanding rate. Boozer and Kirilenko left the game while Korver and Brewer (Kobe's main defender) picked up 5. Boozer also had 7 turnovers on the offensive end. Utah also was 4 / 19 shooting three pointers with an 0-5 effort from Okur and 1-6 from Deron Williams. Overall Utah was being pushed back and shooting too many jump shots as opposed to quality shots at the rim. Typical problem for inferior road teams. Game 2 is Wednesday Night, and the Jazz will need to hold Bryant in check and shoot better than .379% to tie the series going back to Utah.