12/9--Utah at Lakers
This game illustrated why the Lakers are so dangerous.
Utah played an almost perfect first three quarters. The Jazz stayed even with the Lakers after the first, and Utah actually led by four at halftime. At the end of three, it was still very much a game with LA leading 73-71. The Jazz controlled the boards, both offensive and defensive, and took advantage of second and third opportunities. After three quarters, this reminded me a lot of the Houston loss earlier in the year, when the Rockets out-rebounded the Lakers, 60-38, to hand LA one of only three losses this season.
But in the fourth, the Lakers played their best quarter of the year. It was almost like LA had an extra player on the court. They outscored Utah 28-6, which is the fewest points they've allowed in a quarter since they held the Clippers to just three points back in December of 1999. They seemed to double-team every Jazz player when he had the ball, and they forced three shot-clock violations. It was the best defensive quarter I've seen in years.
How does that happen?
"They turned it up defensively," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "That's what great teams do. They have a great team to start with, but they are also one of the great defensive teams. That is what has made them so good."
"Great defense," Phil Jackson said. "We struggled for three quarters and then we had a run--a big one."
"Defense," Lamar Odom said.
See the theme? The Lakers are obviously one of the most dominant offensive teams ever constructed, but that's not how they'll win another title. What they showed on Wednesday night is an ability to completely smother an opponent--even one that had been having a good night.
I asked Pau Gasol why they didn't just play defense in the first three quarters, the way they did in the fourth? His response surprised me.
"Because it's impossible," he said. "You can't sustain that type of defensive pressure for four quarters--you just can't do it. But we did a good job of turning it up when we needed to."
Just ask the Jazz.
Next up: Kurt Rambis gets his ring on Friday night when Minnesota comes to town.