For the entire series, Utah was faced with a Catch-22.
They were not big enough to stop Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum down near the basket, they had to double-team the Lakers big men. But if they did that they left Kobe Bryant (and Derek Fisher) open for good shots.
The Jazz were going to lose no matter what they chose. That became official when the Lakers won game four 111-86 and swept the Jazz out of the playoffs.
For all the strategy and talk about the series, it simply came down to the Laker being taller.
In the first two games of the series Gasol, Bynum and Lamar Odom punished the Jazz inside for wins — both on offense and on defense, where they protected the paint and took away the easy baskets the Jazz thrive on. In game three the Jazz double-teamed the post players to force them to pass. It worked. Well, except for the fact the ball went more into Bryant’s hands and the Jazz had nobody who could guard him.
Monday night it was a combination of the two. The Lakers were too big early on, and then later Kobe got his.
The biggest difference was the Jazz themselves, they played without the intense passion and fight they had shown all season. The team that fought through every pick in game three was going under them and letting Kobe have room. The Jazz were not bringing hard, aggressive double teams to the ball when Bynum or Gasol got it in deep, and the result was Gasol getting going early and having 17 first half point.
“Once we got down a little bit, it was deja vu,” Deron Williams said.
The three closes losses before — by 14 points total — and taken the hope out of the Jazz, the Lakers looked like they were going to run away with it, up 20 at one point and 17 at half.
But the Jazz do not to just roll over. They came out on a little run to start the third quarter and cut the Lakers lead to single digits, doing it by getting some turnovers and points in transition. Williams led the charge, scoring 21, a number that the hustling Paul Millsap matched. The Lakers helped out by getting away from their game plan — Kobe kept trying to hit daggers while Gasol didn’t get to touch the ball. And suddenly Utah was on a run.
However. the Lakers steadied and for much of the half the lead fluctuated in the 8 to 12 range. The Jazz just couldn’t close the gap.
Because the Lakers were taller.
Now it is back to Los Angeles for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals next Monday. It’s the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns — two good teams.
But a matchup where the Lakers are taller. Again.