Derek Fisher knows how to hit the dagger three. Kobe Bryant is fearless under pressure.
That is how you win playoff games — dramatic, exciting, blood-pressure-raising playoff games. The Jazz do not have that.
That’s why the Lakers won 111-110 in Salt Lake City Saturday night and now lead the Jazz three games to none in a best of seven. That’s an insurmountable 3-0 — no NBA team has ever come back from that deficit. The Lakers have to win one more, but they are headed on to the Western Conference Finals.
They are headed there because of the little things at the end of games. The Jazz have led in the fourth quarter of all three games but the Lakers have closed out with wins. Call it championship experience. Call it players who thrive under pressure. Credit Phil Jackson. Whatever the reason, the Lakers did it again, out dueling the Jazz down the stretch of the most exciting Lakers game of these playoffs.
The dramatic end started with 1:25 left and Jazz point guard Deron Williams blowing past Fisher — as he consistently had done all game — but then kicking out to the hottest shooter in the game, Korver. He didn’t miss that one, he couldn’t seem to miss all night. He was 5-5 from three, 9-10 overall and had 23 points.
A couple possessions later, down three with 54 seconds left, the Lakers come down and it’s all Kobe setting up whatever it is he wants. Pau Gasol set a high pick and Kobe’s defender went under it, so Kobe stepped back drained the three. Tie game. He had 35 points. Because he’s good. And feeling healthy.
Williams comes down and just attacks Fisher again, then even with Gasol there he got to a good spot and hit a high-arcing 12-foot baseline jumper.
But what Fisher does is hit big shots, he answers back. This time he gets the kickout pass from a Kobe drive and drains a three over Kover’s outstretched arm. Lakers by one. Dagger.
The Jazz missed next and had to foul Kobe to stop the clock, and two made free throws later the Lakers were up three. The Lakers then foul Williams before he can shoot, two free throws that he makes, and we’re back to the Lakers by one with the ball.
Then on an inbounds play (on the Lakers end of the floor after a timeout) Ron Artest made one of his few mistakes of the night threw the ball to where a cutting Fisher would be, but Jazz rookie Wesley Mathews was busy tackling Fish and the pass went bounding into Korver’s hands. After a timeout the Jazz had one shot to win it.
You know that for the Lakers, with the game on the line, Kobe is going to take the shot and Lakers fans feel good about that. Williams got a good look — a beautiful crossover left Artest a step slow, but the shot rimmed out. However, Kobe had not boxed out his man, Mathews who came flying in for the game winning tip. But it rolled off the rim.
This outcome has to really hurt the Jazz — they did everything they wanted to the Lakers. They limited the Lakers inside. They slowed Gasol and Andrew Bynum (who was scoreless) and made Artest and Fisher beat them, ideally with threes. They got off to a fast start at home.
“Tonight we went over getting the ball out of the post, we were trying to help on the post, make them beat us from the perimeter,” Williams said postgame in interviews shown on NBATV. “Fish hadn’t shot well, Artest hadn’t shot well in the series. So we felt like we could live with outside shots, but it kind of bit us in the butt a little bit.”
Artest was 4 of 7 from three, and both he and Fisher finished with 20 points.
"I was so happy that Coach Sloan had that defensive strategy to play off me,” Artest said. “Got me going a little bit.”
Game four is Monday and like the first three you can expect it to be close. The Jazz will not roll over. Not in their makeup, this is a scrappy team.
But in the end, the Lakers know how to win. And they will close out this series.