Utah fought their way back into a game I don't think anyone expected them to be in late. And I'm including the Lakers, who took their foot off the gas periodically in the second half and allowed the Jazz an opportunity to steal a critical Game 1. In the end, L.A.'s superior talent and effort won the day, but as a group they made themselves work harder than they should have. After the game, there were pointed words for the work done by the bench to start the fourth.
If one wouldn't deem a fourth quarter rescue necessary, then by definition, the "Kobe face" described by ESPNLA.com's Dave McMenamin also should have been absent:
Before we could see The Kobe Face, The Kobe Body would have to go back in.Bryant said it was tough just watching the lead collapse at the start of the fourth before adding, "But if it really got tough for me, I'd just check myself in."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson did the subbing for him, throwing Bryant back in the game with 7:32 remaining. Bryant took it from there, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter, including 11 of the Lakers' final 15 points, to win the game 104-99.
It was toward the end of Bryant's rescue mission when The Kobe Face came out with 1:20 remaining in the game, making its 2010 postseason debut. He showed it after he hit a pull-up jumper from the foul line to put the Lakers up by three after the Jazz turned that eight-point deficit into a four-point lead just minutes before.
"I thought he felt the need to put it on his shoulders," said Jackson."
Why are the fourth quarter collapse and Kobe face particularly disheartening? For starters, as True Hoop's Kevin Arnovitz notes, their length provides several inherent advantages towards burying the Jazz:
That length isn’t just about clogging passing lanes. There are ancillary benefits that come with having big guys who can deflect passes and block shots. For instance, the Lakers’ guards have the luxury of defending with more freedom.“Fish, Kobe and Ron do a great job pressuring the ball because they know there are three 7-footers waiting back there,” Miles said, referring to Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest.
In other words, playing a lethal guard like Deron Williams more aggressively is less risky because if he beats you, there’s a back line that can clean up the mess. After averaging 11.3 assists per game in six games against Denver, Williams managed only eight assists in Game 1 against the Lakers. Meanwhile, Gasol recorded five blocked shots and Lamar Odom swatted away a pair.
“Gasol is a tremendous player," Sloan said. "He’s very long, and they’re very long for us to deal with. He’s so big and long and that’s where he hurt us. Obviously, his ability to block shots keeps us off the basket.”
"I thought we had a lack of toughness in the first half," said Jazz point guard Deron Williams. "We only had one guy with two fouls coming into halftime and that's rare for a playoff game."
Well, you can't get tougher or nastier overnight (or in the case of the Jazz, over a year apparently) just like you can't grow three to five inches, which is really the Jazz's biggest problem against the Lakers. It's not that they don't know what the Lakers are doing; they simply aren't as big, as strong, as tough or as good as the Lakers.
The need to wriggle out of a jam down the stretch isn't a reason to question the team's odds in this series. Brian and I remain quite confident in the Lakers' ability to advance. But beyond the risk coming whenever a team plays with fire, it's just never preferable to create a win more complicated than necessary. Yes, the Jazz will always fight in any case, but they could have reduced to a team throwing punches in the air, had the Lakers not let up a bit to start the fourth.
Neither the end of the world nor the most inspirational of victories.