Lakers tune out Jazz in opener
By GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES — While the Los Angeles Lakers' reserves haplessly gave away the lead early in the fourth quarter, the Utah Jazz celebrated every basket with increasing glee, spilling off their bench in anticipation of an upset.
Even the Hollywood crowd was tense, with many fans anxiously kneading or waving the giveaway white T-shirts they apparently were too cool to wear.
"It was tough," Kobe Bryant said. "But when it got really tough for me, I just checked myself in."
A few minutes after Bryant checked in, the Jazz were checkmated in these familiar rivals' second-round opener.
Bryant scored 11 of his 31 points in the final four minutes, and the Lakers blew a fourth-quarter lead before rallying for a 104-99 victory yesterday.
Pau Gasol had 25 points and 12 rebounds while blocking five shots for the top-seeded Lakers, whose backups were nearly run off the court by the fired-up Jazz before Bryant seized control.
Last season's NBA finals MVP coolly scored seven consecutive points to erase Utah's four-point lead, followed by a dynamic slice through the lane for a layup with 22.6 seconds left. Los Angeles also did it with defense, holding the Jazz to one field goal in the final 4:10.
"We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole and let them gain all the momentum," Bryant said. "At that point, you've just got to buckle down."
Los Angeles will host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series tomorrow night.
Deron Williams scored 24 points for fifth-seeded Utah, which went 3:51 without a field goal after taking a 93-89 lead. Utah has lost 15 straight to the Lakers at Staples Center, including seven playoff games.
"We got a little rattled coming down the stretch — put up some shots, they just didn't fall," said Paul Millsap, who scored eight of his 16 points early in the fourth quarter. "We're not playing to get close. We're playing to win the game."
HAWKS TOP BUCKS TO WIN SERIES, 4-3
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks weren't going to let another game slip away on their home court.
After keeping their season alive with a gutty win in Milwaukee, the Hawks made sure the Bucks were in no position to duplicate their improbable Game 5 upset. Jamal Crawford scored 22 points, Al Horford put up a double-double and Atlanta pulled away for a 95-74 win yesterday that gave the Hawks a 4-3 triumph in the tougher-than-expected series. It was the only series to go the distance in the opening round.
Last Wednesday, the favored Hawks squandered a nine-point lead in the final four minutes, bickered among themselves in the closing seconds and left the court to boos from their own fans, down 3-2 in the series.
"We let 'em down in Game 5," Atlanta forward Josh Smith said. "We enjoyed every minute of this."
The third-seeded Hawks advanced to face No. 2 Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Magic, who have been resting since wrapping up a sweep of Charlotte last Monday, will host the first two games of the series beginning tomorrow night.
Nuggets: Nuggets coach George Karl has another blood clot in his right leg as he recovers from radiation and chemotherapy treatment for throat and neck cancer.
Karl's partner, Kim Van Deraa, wrote on her blog this weekend that the 58-year-old coach was rushed to the hospital Friday afternoon with the clot. She said doctors were trying to determine the cause because Karl already is on blood-thinning medication.