By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Apr 26 2009 2:05AM
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Lakers' 108-94 win in Game 4 on Saturday taught us one thing: Everything we thought we knew about this series after the first three games was wrong.
We thought Kobe Bryant was going to play facilitator in the early going and force feed the Lakers bigs so Los Angeles could accomplish its first priority in every game it plays of establishing the post. We got Bryant taking eight shots in the first 12 minutes, while the eight other Lakers that played in the first combined to take just 10.
"It's important for me to come out and be a little bit more assertive," Bryant said. "I've been sitting back a little bit too much and as a result we were losing probably the deadliest feature in our offense which is my scoring, so I came out a little bit more aggressive."
"I kind of was sensing that the team wanted me to get it going a little it."
We thought the Jazz had figured out a way to bother Bryant with Ronnie Brewer's pestering attention combined with Utah's help defense hedging out on the perimeter to reinforce his coverage. We got No. 24 going off for 24 first-half points on 10-for-13 shooting en route to 38 on 16-for-24.
"I never said we stopped Kobe Bryant [after Game 3]," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "I knew better." OK, so Sloan wasn't with us on that last thought.
We thought Bryant treated his body like a temple after he lost 15 pounds two summers ago when he decided to cut out pizza and grape soda from his diet. We got the revelation that he smoked a cigar in between Games 3 and 4 to get rid of the stench of that poor shooting night, as is his ritual whenever he is throwing up blanks.
"After I sign the [endorsement] contract, I'll tell you what kind of cigar it was," Bryant said.
We thought whoever won the first-quarter battle would win the game, as L.A. did by going up 11 in Game 1 and 12 in Game 2 and Utah repeated by forging ahead by nine in Game 3. We got the Lakers bucking the trend by falling down by five after one, but winning the game by 14.
We thought Mehmet Okur's return would give Utah another three-point threat and open up the floor for the Jazz to dominate the paint. We got Okur going 0-for-1 from three and 0-for-3 overall, his zero points and two rebounds a far cry from his season averages of 17.0 and 7.7.
"I felt a little bit sore," said Okur, who spent more time on a stationary bicycle in the tunnel than he did in 13 ineffective minutes on the court.
We thought Utah was virtually invincible at EnergySolutions Arena, having gone 75-14 on their home court in the last two regular seasons plus Playoffs and 10-2 all-time against L.A. in the postseason. We got a home crowd that was at least couple dozen decibels lower than it was on Thursday and a faction of loud but proud Lakers fans filling the altitude-altered air with "M-V-P, M-V-P" chants for Bryant and "Utah [stinks]! Utah [stinks]!" in the final minute.
"I was kind of disappointed in the way we came out and disappointed in our fans a little bit tonight," Deron Williams said after notching a double-double with 23 points and 13 assists.
We thought that Matt Harping was the forgotten reserve that came out of nowhere to become the x-factor for the rest of the series. We got Luke Walton bouncing off the bench to chip in nine points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals and hitting a 3-pointer during a key 20-2 run by L.A. in the second quarter that broke the game open.
"That's kind of been a thing with our team all year," Walton said. "We have such a deep team that we're going to get great play most nights from Kobe, Pau [Gasol], Lamar [Odom], [Andrew] Bynum so when we get other guys to come and step up, whoever it is, it makes us a lot tougher to beat."
We thought that Utah fans were conservative types that walked a straight line. We got the P.A. address announcer declaring to the crowd "keep your balls in your hands please" after a mini basketball that found its way onto the court stopped play in the fourth and the crowd erupting in laughter at the one-liner like a bunch of college kids watching Superbad.
We thought the Lakers couldn't hold a big lead for four quarters like John Mayer can't hold a committed relationship for four weeks. We got L.A. taking its 13-point lead in the second and pushing it to 19 in the third and 24 in the fourth. We thought Andrew Bynum was the missing piece in the Lakers failed Finals run last season. We got Phil Jackson pointing out all the success that L.A. has had against Utah in the last two seasons without Bynum and then taking his 21-year-old center out of the starting lineup and only playing him seven minutes.
"I know he's unhappy with it, but that's what he was asked to do tonight so that's what he had to do," Jackson said.
We thought Utah owned the glass in this series after it outrebounded L.A. by 7.7 boards in the first three games. We got the Lakers controlling the caroms 46-39, with Lamar Odom accounting for 15 of them.
"We had to focus on it and get it done, we had to outwork them and we were able to do that for the most part," Odom said. "We stayed in between them and the basket."
We thought the biggest thing on anybody's mind at the arena on Saturday was the basketball game that was about to be played. We got a reality check that there's more to life than hoops when our heart strings were pulled by the thought of losing two aging basketball lifers -- 74-year-old Jazz broadcaster "Hot" Rod Hundley may have announced his last game in Utah, deciding to retire at the end of the season after 42 years at the microphone, and 87-year-old Lakers special consultant Tex Winter may have taught the intricacies of the triangle offense for the last time after suffering a stroke in the shower Saturday morning.
"Tex is one of those people who doesn't care who it is, he cares how the game is being played and I think that's the one thing that we can always count on," Jackson said of Winter. "He's going to talk about the principles of the game, as opposed to the personalities."
We wish Hundley a smooth transition and Winter a speedy recovery.
We thought we had the makings of a six- or seven-game series on our hands. We got the Lakers finally looking like a championship-caliber team ready to finish off Utah the first chance it gets in Game 5.
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