A Daily Babble Production
Imagine that: An All-Star power forward finally shows up to play, and it threatens to change the previously established dynamic of a playoff series.
The Utah Jazz arrived home in Salt Lake City facing a 2-0 deficit to the Los Angeles Lakers, and fortunately for them, Carlos Boozer's game was waiting patiently for them at Energy Solutions Arena.
The stud forward came off a poor Game 1 and an even poorer 10-point, 5-rebound Game 2 to turn in a virtuoso performance in Utah's 104-99 Game 3 victory: 12-for-21 shooting, 27 points, 20 rebounds. Boozer was dominant both in the paint and up at the high post offensively. He returned with his usual assortment of dunks courtesy of feeds from Deron Williams' penetration and his own strong moves on the interior, and it didn't hurt that he canned several jumpers from mid-range as well, including a left-wing runner in the eyes of Lamar Odom to extend the lead to seven in the game's final minutes. The man accounted for more than half of his team's 35 rebounds and was nothing short of a force at both ends of the floor.
It goes virtually without saying that this team barely stands a chance without Boozer submitting high-class performances on a nightly basis against the Lakers. He is Utah's second best player and premier interior scorer, and he is the only consistent answer the Jazz have on the inside to the Lakers' dynamic frontcourt consisting of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. He was inefficient offensively in Game 1 and a complete no-show in Game 2, and both games resulted in double-digit losses. The return of his interior power marked the return of his team's winning ways, and that should shock no one.
But even with Utah on the board with a victory at home, one has to wonder just how powerful Boozer is going to have to be in order to keep the Jazz in this series for much longer.
Without question, Boozer's performance was excellent, and he wasn't alone in his efficiency for Utah. Four starters took at least 9 shots, and all shot at least 50 percent from the field. Deron Williams was his usual uncontainable self, going for 18 points (6-for-12 shooting) and 12 assists against just two turnovers. Memo Okur was in rhythm all night, going for 22 points and 7 boards on 8-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-7 from beyond the arc. The big boys came to play for the Jazz, and the team shot 50 percent for the game with just 12 turnovers.
With that in mind, it seems worth wondering whether this team should be a bit disconcerted by the fact that it was never able to pull away in this game. Even though Boozer outscored and outrebounded the combination of Odom and Gasol all by his own self (they combined for 8 turnovers between them as well), even though the Jazz forced 18 LA turnovers, and even though the Lakers shot an abysmal 5-for-23 from beyond the arc, the Jazz won this game by just five points, and more importantly, they couldn't seem to close this team out.
They led by 13 in the second quarter, but the Lakers cut it to nine by halftime. They opened the lead to 11 in the third, but the Lakers had it down to seven to start the fourth. The lead went back to 12 early in the final quarter, and it took a shade over two minutes for the Lakers to cut the deficit to five. Up to nine, down to three one last time before the Jazz held off the Lakers for the victory when all was said and done.
Undoubtedly, NBA games tend to happen in spurts, and it's to be expected that a team as good as the Lakers would fight to get back into this game. But the Jazz got a 20-20 game from a power forward, a typically excellent performance from their point guard, a great shooting night overall and a 12-point, 6-board game from the opposing center, and they couldn't step on the opponent's throat for one night. This came in the first home game of the series no less, usually the easiest game for the lower seed in most playoff bouts.
Carlos Boozer is an excellent player, and the Jazz have every right to expect that they will get more from him through the rest of this series than they did in the first two games. But expecting him to continue to play at a 20-20 level against one of the top frontcourts in the game seems lofty, and the possibility of him continuing to outproduce the Odom-Gasol combination is infinitesimal. This team has had trouble stopping big-time two guards all year, and that has only held especially true against Kobe Bryant. In four regular season games against the Jazz, Bryant averaged 29.8 points on 56 percent shooting (and 55.6 from deep) to go with 5.5 boards and 5.0 assists. Thus far in this series, the newly minted MVP is scoring 35.3 points per on 53.7 percent shooting, and that's accompanied by 6.7 boards and 6.7 assists.
That's a seven-game sample for which these Utah Jazz have had absolutely no answer for Kobe Bryant. They got an out-of-this-world performance last night from one of their best players and some help from the Lakers, and despite their inability to put the Lakers away once and for all throughout the second half, they managed to hang on for a much-needed victory. Sounds like the type of thing that could happen once -- but that it wouldn't be too reasonable to expect again.
Label me wholly unsurprised if the Lake Show makes short work of the Jazz over their next two games.