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Game 1 victory over Utah is a feel-bad story for Kobe Bryant and Lakers

L.A. players are in a foul mood even after Bryant's 31 points help them beat Jazz, 104-99. Causes of their distress: Shabby play by reserves, the sight of Andrew Bynum limping and a 14-point second-quarter lead turning into a four-point fourth-quarter deficit.

May 02, 2010|By Mike Bresnahan

The Lakers won a game, but it was hard to tell.

They're now 1-0 in the Western Conference semifinals, though there were no smiles in their locker room Sunday at Staples Center.

A 104-99 victory over the Utah Jazz felt almost like a loss to them, even though Kobe Bryant had his best shooting game in five weeks, Pau Gasol continued his steady play and the Lakers managed to win despite only 39 hours to recover from the fleet feet of the Oklahoma City Thunder, no small concern for a veteran, banged-up team.

A playoff victory can't be fully discarded, and maybe the Lakers will return to their usual dominance of the Jazz in Game 2 on Tuesday, but they couldn't like some of the signs they saw Sunday, be it a limping Andrew Bynum, a sagging corps of reserves or the lack of a knockout blow after taking a 14-point lead in the second quarter on the undermanned, undersized Jazz.

Lamar Odom was the last-minute hero this time, and he might have been the angriest of anybody, part of a second unit that flopped early in the fourth quarter, unable to hold an eight-point lead and forcing four starters to come rushing back into the game.

"We should be able to build on leads and it shouldn't have to come down to Pau and Kobe having to make every play at the end of the game," Odom said sternly. "I don't feel like this game should have had to go like that."

An eight-point lead going into the fourth quarter had been whacked to one by the time Bryant, Gasol, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher checked into the game with 7:32 to play.

It briefly got worse for the Lakers, the Jazz extending its run to 12-1 to go ahead, 85-82, and later holding a 93-89 lead with four minutes to play, before a 15-6 run ended the threat. Bryant scored 11 on his own, including a driving layup that put the Lakers in control, 100-95, with 22.6 seconds left.

Odom provided the emotional charge in the final minutes, blocking a shot by Carlos Boozer and later scoring off a rebound with 49.9 seconds left.

But Bynum might have said it best after finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds while laboring through a slight cartilage tear in his right knee.

"We've been giving up leads all season long," he said. "Until we fix that problem, every team's going to be a tough opponent for us."

Gasol had 25 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, beating up a Utah front line missing injured starters Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko.

Bryant had 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting, the first time he made more than half his shots since a 12-for-21 effort March 31 against Atlanta. His touch returned after some so-so shooting games in the first round against Oklahoma City, much of which could be pinned on a sore right knee.

"It's a lot better," Bryant said. "It was very encouraging for me to be able to move around and do what I wanted to do."

Bryant wasn't so bullish on the unit that was blamed for letting Utah back in the game — Odom, Bynum, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton.

"Second unit's got to play better," Bryant said. "Simple as that. They will."

And if they don't?

"If it really got tough for me [to watch], I'd just check myself in," he said.

Deron Williams had 24 points and eight assists for the Jazz, and reserve Paul Millsap plundered the Lakers' second unit in the fourth quarter, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds.

It wasn't an entirely fruitless afternoon for the Lakers. Coach Phil Jackson passed Pat Riley for most playoff victories in Lakers history, getting No. 103 despite the turmoil of the fourth quarter.

Afterward, Gasol jogged over to Bryant and rubbed his head vigorously. It was more a sign of relief than anything else.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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