The Utah Jazz have the best point guard in basketball. They’ve surrounded him with good outside shooting and talented forwards. They have one of the best coaches in the league and run the flex with precision. They’re a tough, physical team who don’t back down from any challenge.
What Utah doesn’t have is the kind of size and talent up front that the Lakers do. The Lakers have two skilled seven-footers capable of doing serious damage from the post and a versatile 6-10 forward who comes off the bench. The Jazz have two talented 6-8 forwards and one Kyrylo Fesenko. Tuesday night in Los Angeles, the Lakers’ advantage up front was the key to their game two victory over the Jazz.
It’s hard to say what the Jazz should have done differently in game two. They took the ball hard to the rim all game long, rarely taking quick jumpers or forgetting to feed their bigs. They shot the ball well from deep, going 8-19 on shots from beyond the arc. They finished with 10 fewer turnovers than the Lakers did. Because of that, the Jazz took 17 more field goals than the Lakers did, and only 8 fewer free throws. And it’s not like the Lakers were shooting well themselves — in fact, they only shot 8-31 on shots taken outside of the paint.
In spite of all of that, the Jazz never really had a chance to win. The lead never got all that big and the Jazz spent a few minutes of the fourth quarter in striking distance, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Points in the paint isn’t part of the story — it’s darn near the whole story. When the Lakers’ army of giants went inside, they got buckets. The Lakers went to the post early and often, and it worked. When left on an island, Bynum, Gasol, and Kobe were cash. When doubled, they found cutters effectively. Even when they missed, another big was there for a put-back. When the relatively diminutive Jazz went to the basket, they either got their shots blocked (The Lakers recorded 13 blocks over the course of the game) or altered. The Lakers also murdered the Jazz on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 offensive boards against only 21 defensive rebounds for the Jazz.
The Jazz finished 25-59 on shots outside of the paint while the Lakers shot 32-48 from inside the painted area. Gasol, Bynum, and Odom were all operating with impunity inside, combining for 50 points and 44 rebounds on 18-24 shooting from the floor. The Jazz trio of Boozer, Millsap, and Fesenko wasn’t nearly as effective, combining to score 48 points and 26 rebounds on 20-45 shooting.
Not only was the Jazz’s lack of size getting exposed, but Kobe Bryant was outplaying Deron Williams by a considerable margin. Kobe finished with 30 points and 8 assists, and put the game away with 9 points in the final five minutes of the contest. Meanwhile, Deron Williams struggled all game, finishing with 15 points on 4-16 shooting from the field. That’s the kind of game Utah can’t have from Deron if they want to win this series; if they want to have a chance against the Lakers’ Goliath bigs, they need their sling to be working properly.
After the game, Williams pointed to the Los Angeles’ size advantage as a reason for his struggles, saying that “[The Lakers] were doing similar to what Denver did; they were just a little bit better at it, making other people beat them. Every time I turned to get in the lane there were two to three guys in there and that length bothers me a lot more than Denver’s did.”
After the game, Jackson was less than pleased with how his team executed. He didn’t mince words when he looked ahead to game three, saying “We cannot survive a game like tonight in front of their fans.” Jackson does have a point in that there are certainly a lot of things that the Lakers could have done better in game three. However, if the Jazz don’t get more out of Deron Williams, get Kirilenko healthy, or find a way to make Boozer and Millsap three inches taller, I don’t see a lot of ways for the Jazz to win this series.