The first two games of this series went exactly to script. The Lakers were dominant inside and were able to win both games at home. Game 3 was completely different for the Lakers except for two things; Kobe Bryant and the result. Bryant scored 30-plus points yet again and the Lakers beat the Jazz 111-110.
Andrei Kirilenko returned and was able to contribute. The Jazz got a lift from the return of Kirilenko who had been out with a strained calf muscle. He came in and had an immediate impact. He hustled for loose balls and had a couple put backs and really helped on the defensive end. These are the things Kirilenko does. He's a scrapper that fills up all stats. He was able to play 17 minutes and had 8 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and a block. On the defensive end, his length made for narrower passing lanes and he was part of the reason for the Lakers' futile efforts to score in the paint.
The Lakers were denied from dominating inside. In Games 1 and 2, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol averaged 46 points and 39 rebounds while shooting 61 percent. In Game 3, they hit 8 of 19 shots for 22 points and grabbed just 27 rebounds. Clearly, Jerry Sloan made a few adjustments to slow down the big men of the Lakers. The Jazz double-teamed on any entry into the post and did their best to deny position. Bynum was held scoreless and had just one field goal attempt. He played just 20 minutes in order for the Lakers to be able to match the speed of the Jazz's lineup.
The Lakers managed to hit from three-point range. The Jazz packed their defense into the paint and that allowed for open shots from the perimeter. The strategy made sense. The Lakers had hit just 6 of 29 three-pointers through the first two games and had dominated inside. But they were able to make the Jazz pay. They hit 13 of 29 three-pointers including 4 of 7 in the fourth quarter.
Unlikely stars emerged for both teams. The biggest beneficiary of the Jazz's emphasis on controlling the paint was Ron Artest. Artest has been an offensive liability throughout the playoffs. Through the first two games he had hit 1 of 10 three-pointers. He had shot under 17 percent from distance in the playoffs yet continued to look for his shot. He finally started to make some of those last night. He finished 4 for 7 from three and 7 of 13 for the game for 20 points. This has been what the Lakers have been waiting for. Artest gets so many open looks but hasn't been able to knock them down. But he spent two and a half hours earlier in the day just shooting threes and it seemed to pay off.
For the Jazz, it was Kyle Korver who came out of nowhere and almost put the Jazz over the top. He was absolutely on fire. In the first two games he shot 5 for 10 for 11 points. In Game 3 he hit 9 of 10 shots for 23 points. He was a perfect 5 for 5 from three-point range and these were not easy shots. These were threes curling off of screens and fading to the right. He couldn't miss.
Kobe Bryant wasn't quite the closer but he helped keep the Lakers in the game. The Lakers looked lost in the first half. They couldn't get the ball inside and couldn't hit from the outside. Bryant, sensing his team needed him early shouldered the load. He had 9 of their 17 points in the first quarter and had 20 of their 50 at halftime. And this wasn't the Kobe that takes every single shot that comes his way. He worked for good shots and passed the ball when they weren't there. Of course he put up a few ill-advised ones but he made a few of those as well. He finished 13 of 24 for 35 points and added 7 assists.
Bryant wasn't quite the closer most come to expect of him. He re-entered the game three minutes into the fourth quarter with the Lakers leading 89-88. But Bryant started the quarter 1 for 5 with a turnover and with 2:47 the Jazz led 100-96. That's when Bryant came to life again. He scored 7 of their final 15 including a fade away jumper to give them a one-point lead (103-102) and a huge three-pointer to tie it at 106.
Of course, the biggest shot came from none other than Derek Fisher. After Kobe's three, Deron Williams hit a midrange jumper over Gasol to put the Jazz up two. But on the ensuing possession, Bryant took one dribble inside the arc and kicked it out to Derek Fisher. Fisher rose up and nailed the arcing three-pointer to give the Lakers the one-point lead.I won't run through the rest of both team's possessions but I do want to bring up the final two. The Lakers led 111-110 and Artest was inbounding the ball. Derek Fisher curled towards Artest and was wrapped up by Wesley Matthews as Artest inbounded it, but the foul wasn't called. The ball went past Fisher right to Korver giving the Jazz one more chance with 4.4 seconds remaining. Deron Williams shook Artest and had a great look at a jumper just inside the three-point line. He drew iron but it popped out and Wesley Matthews was there for the tip but it didn't fall. Matthews got away with the foul on Fisher on one end and then couldn't get the tip-in to go. Now that's what I call karma. Lakers take a 3-0 lead and have a chance to wrap up the series Monday in Utah.