NBA: Utah evens series
By Doug Alden
SALT LAKE CITY ó The Utah Jazz had plenty of chances to crumble and nearly did.
Utah let a 12-point lead slip away in the last four minutes of regulation and faced overtime against league MVP Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead of wilting, the Jazz played its toughest defense of the playoffs and pulled out a 123-115 victory Sunday to tie the Western Conference semifinals at 2-all.
The Jazz held the Lakers to two field goals in overtime and went 9-for-9 from the foul line while outscoring Los Angeles 15-7.
iWe never have any doubts in our confidence,î said Utahís Andrei Kirilenko, who blocked Bryant twice in overtime and converted a three-point play with 35 seconds remaining to help the Jazz pull away.
After opening the series with two losses in Los Angeles, the Jazz came home and answered with two wins to make it a best-of-three series, starting Wednesday at the Staples Center. Game 6 will be Friday in Salt Lake City, where Utah is 4-1 in the playoffs.
Deron Williams had 29 points and 14 assists. Carlos Boozer scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime and grabbed 12 boards.
Mehmet Okur added 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Kirilenko finished with 15 points and five blocks ó stuffing Bryant twice as the Lakers tried to rally in overtime.
Bryant, who said he was fighting back spasms from early in the first quarter, finished with 33 points and 10 assists.
iNo excuses for me,î Bryant said. i(Kirilenko) did a great job. They did a terrific job. They did big plays when they needed to.î
And Los Angeles helped by sending the Jazz to the foul line 20 more times than the Lakers, who made it worse by missing 11 of 25 foul shots.
Lamar Odom had 26 points and 13 rebounds, and Pau Gasol scored 23 points and pulled down 10 boards for the Lakers. Derek Fisher finished with 15 points, scoring 10 straight as the Lakers rallied in the fourth, but he had no assists and got in early foul trouble.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said the Lakers were depending too much on Bryant.
iI still thought he went to the basket hard at the end,î Jackson said. iHe was still able to get to the basket and do what he wanted to do. He was out there to make plays.î
Utah shot 53 percent and had a huge advantage at the foul line, making 37 of 45 free throws. The Jazz reserves also dominated the Lakersí subs, outscoring them 39-16.
iOur bench stepped up and provided with a lot of scoring and a lot of energy. We need to take that to L.A.,î Williams said. iWeíre confident now, but we still need to prove we can win on the road.î
Williams had a chance to win it at the end of regulation but was blocked by Fisher, his teammate a year ago. But the Lakersí momentum stopped there as the Jazz regained its composure.
iEverybody hereís been in overtime games. Itís just another five minutes added to the clock,î Williams said.
The Lakers struggled in the extra period and didnít score until a layup by Bryant with 1:10 remaining cut Utahís lead to 112-110.
Los Angeles almost forced the Jazz into a shot clock violation before Kyle Korver got off an attempt from the corner just in time. The ball bounced off the rim right to Okur, who passed it back outside to Williams, and Utah was able to burn some time before Williams slipped a pass to Kirilenko, who dunked it while getting fouled by Odom.
Kirilenko made the free throw to put Utah up by fiv, and the Jazz hit the rest of its free throws to clinch it.
Utah backup guard Ronnie Price also had a big game despite finishing with four points and two assists. Price had to get four stitches for a cut over his right eye after he was flagrantly fouled early in the second quarter by Ronny Turiaf, who was ejected.
Turiaf came down hard with his left arm, and Price went straight down. His head bounced on the court.
Price leaped right up as his teammates swarmed the officials and pushed for the flagrant call. He got stitches in the locker room and came back in the second half with one of the plays of the game.
Luke Walton had a clear path for a layup or dunk after a missed 3-pointer by Price, who caught him from behind and blocked the shot midway through the fourth to keep Utahís lead at 92-84.
iThat was the play of the game,î Boozer said.
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