SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Instead of tapering off, the Los Angeles Lakers' shooting plummeted.
The defense and rebounding seemed to follow, and instead of being on the verge of a sweep, the Lakers hold only a 2-1 lead in their first-round series against Utah.
The Jazz rallied from a 13-point deficit and won 88-86 on Thursday, taking advantage of the first shooting woes the Lakers have had this postseason. Game 4 is Saturday night in Utah, where the Lakers are just 2-10 all-time in playoff games.
"It's a chance for us to come into this building and win a game after playing very bad in that last one,'' Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said after practice Friday.
Bryant went just 5-for-24 on Thursday, never really recovering after missing his first six shots. It was that kind of night for the Lakers, who made just 32 of 87 attempts.
The Lakers didn't expect to maintain their 58 percent shooting from the first two games, but did little to compensate when they finally went cold. The Jazz were then quickest to the ball for the many bounces off the rim.
"They let themselves back into the series - playing hard, playing the right way,'' Bryant said.
Bryant was quite complimentary of Utah's performance, crediting the Jazz several times for their composure in the come-from-behind victory.
All compliments aside, the Jazz know they could be in for a reinvigorated Bryant on Saturday after angering the 2008 league MVP by shutting him down.
"When you think that you're doing a job on him, wait until you play him next time,'' Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "I'm sure he'll come back. That's what guys like that do. They don't sit around and feel sorry for themselves. He's a veteran player that knows how to kill you.''
If Bryant and the Lakers can find something in between the way they shot in the first two games and their performance in Game 3, they are confident they can get out of Utah with a win and be in position to clinch the series when it returns to Los Angeles.
They nearly got a victory Thursday after opening the third quarter 10-for-15 and outscoring Utah 29-17 in the period.
"When we got back into the ballgame and took the lead decisively, we let down our guard,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We stopped playing the kind of defense that got us in that position and let them back in.''
The Jazz were hopeful that center Mehmet Okur could be back in the lineup Saturday after missing the first three games of the series with a strained right hamstring. Okur was able to practice on Friday and his status for Game 4 depended on how his hamstring felt Saturday.
The 6-foot-11 Okur would be a welcome addition inside, where the Jazz have had a difficult time stopping the taller Lakers.
Although relieved not to be facing a 3-0 deficit, the Jazz know going back to Los Angeles down 3-1 wouldn't be a whole lot better. Utah made many of the same mistakes it made in the first two games and could easily have lost Thursday.
"We didn't play well at all. Kobe's not going to go 5-for-24 again,'' point guard Deron Williams said.
Williams had his own shooting struggles in Game 3, making Utah's comeback all the more improbable. He had carried the Jazz through the first two games, keeping Los Angeles from running away with either by averaging 25.5 points and 13 assists, but could not crack the Lakers' defense most of the night.
Williams still ended up winning the game for the Jazz on a 14-foot jumper with 2.2 seconds left.
"They had a chance to put us away,'' said Carlos Boozer, who tied a team playoff record with 22 rebounds in Thursday's win. "They gave us opportunities to get back into the game and we took them. We were down by 13 and we fought back and won.''
The Lakers had double-digit leads in the first two games of the series, too, and were able to hold off the Jazz in both. This time Utah finally completed the rally despite getting manhandled in the third quarter.
The Jazz were somewhat relieved on Friday, both for beating the Lakers for the first time in the series and they way they did it.
"We had a drop-off in our effort to start the third quarter,'' Sloan said. "We won the ballgame. That's the main thing, but still the effort has to be there.''
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