The outcome of the Lakers/Jazz game was never in doubt. Even when Utah cut the lead to four points late in the 4th quarter, the game wasn't out of hand. Teams that erase 20 points deficits rarely come back and win; and, Boozer had five fouls. Once he was off the floor--which was inevitable given Utah's style -- the only matter in question was the final margin of victory.
The Jazz is a quality opponent, but the Lakers will prevail. Toward a broader explanation, I offer a quote from that great basketball coach and father of our country, George (Coach) Washington. He said, "Beware the surprise attack!"
Today was the clearest opportunity Utah will ever have to beat the Lakers at Staples Center-- the 'surprise attack,' if you will. The Lakers weren't ready for Utah's relentless commitment to obtaining second shots. The Jazz took 22 more shots and out-rebounded the Lakers 25-to-8 on the offensive glass. That's 17 extra possessions! A significant statistic, rest assured. In basketball, a team must prevail when achieving an overpowering level of dominance in second shot opportunities. But the Jazz failed to get a 'W." They're averaging 90.5 PPG in the playoffs -- in six games, while giving up 88.5 PPG.
The Lakers were a 'plus 16' in free throw attempts (46 to 30) and I felt they could have shot eight more, The Jazz--given their style of play-- will put the Lakers on the foul line-- read: Bryant and Odom. And this isn't going to bode well for Utah's hopes to win a game in Los Angeles.
The Lakers, arguably, present the most problematic match-up for Utah for the following reasons:
1.) They lack a Bruce Bowen /Kenyon Martin defender who can waste five fouls on Bryant while not being counted on for scoring.
2.) Utah's team defensive scheme is more targeted at weak side shot-blocking (by Kirilenko) than an robust attempt at preventing dribble penetration. And that's where the Lakers excel-- attacking the painted area and looking for teammates on a 'dive' or a 'diagonal cut," or passing to an teammate on the perimeter. (This is a difficult style of basketball to defend when one has the best player on Earth attacking the paint and Vujacic, Fisher and Radmanovic as perimeter shooter.)
3. The players anchoring Utah's second unit-- Harpring, Milsap, et. all, won't score enough points to keep the game manageable. This means that Boozer and Kirilenko will have to play big minutes. Results: Foul Trouble for them and bad news for the Jazz.
The Jazz hurt the Laker half-court defense with back screens and quick, decisive cuts and curls. Utah executed this extraordinarily well -- and, similar to the relentless offensive rebounding, caught the Lakers by surprise. Still, Utah fell 11 points short. Although, I think the true margin of victory was closer to six points. (And remember, that's with 18 extra possessions.)
The Lakers should make a major adjustment for Wednesday's game: Play Zone on at least 40% of the defensive possessions -- here are two reasons why this is essential:
1. The Jazz are comfortable with a 'half-court' offensive scheme -- and they have two quality perimeter shooters (Okur and Korver). The other three-point shooter, Williams, is the primary ball-handler so his attempts are either in transition or off-the-dribble.--much more difficult shots. Should the Lakers go zone, the lion's share of the pressure to make shots will rest on Okur and Korver. This is a good news/bad news story because both players are counted on heavily for offense, but are potential liabilities on defense. Korver can't guard Fisher. Okur can't guard Odom. And no one in the 'Beehive' state can guard Bryant.
2. The zone will 'clog' the painted area, making it difficult for Boozer to attack the basket from the elbow (which is his strength) -- and, furthermore, the zone places Laker defenders at better angles to negate Utah's ball side cuts--which are ferocious.
If Game One is a proper indication, the Jazz are in a quagmire. They are a quality opponent for Los Angeles but will not win the series because they can neither outscore nor slow-down Bryant/Gasol/Odom to prevail four times.
They will, however, compete. The Lakers will have to earn this one. These aren't the Nuggets.