This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
After that stretch of the fourth quarter when the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant scored 14 points in five trips down the court, this was not the ending anybody could have seen coming Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
Bryant took an inbound pass in backcourt, dribbled once and flipped the basketball to a referee, then hugged Jazz guard Raja Bell.
After all the rallies they've staged this month, including a comeback from 19 points down early in Friday's second quarter, this final surge was the most impressive of them all. The Jazz were trailing by five points, Bryant was looking unstoppable and there was a certain inevitability to the whole thing just like all those playoff series against the Lakers the past three springs, right?
And then the Jazz somehow scored the last 11 points of the game, winning 102-96.
This is only November, obviously. Yet the way everything played out in the end was enough to make anyone believe the Jazz will have a much better chance of competing with the champs in the postseason.
Sure, that's a fairly safe statement, considering the Jazz have won exactly three playoff games in three years against these guys and were swept in the second round in May. But nobody could walk out of this building Friday thinking this was the same, old Jazz team, or that the same, old stuff would happen in the 2011 playoffs.
Deron Williams is better than ever, for one thing. His 29 points and 12 assists tell only part of the story. As for the new guys, Al Jefferson is not afraid to shoot over Pau Gasol, Bell is willing to battle Bryant one-on-one although a little help never hurts and nobody plays better from behind than Earl Watson.
More than anything, the Jazz proved they could finish a game against the Lakers at both ends. After his amazing flurry, Bryant did not take a shot on the Lakers' last six failed possessions.
Nobody can say coach Jerry Sloan and the Jazz are slow learners. All it took for them to invest another defender in the interest of stopping Bryant was to have him make two 3-pointers and a turnaround jumper over Bell, another 3-pointer over Andrei Kirilenko and three free throws after a Kirilenko foul for a 96-91 lead with 2:32 remaining.
"We went and doubled him, finally," Sloan said. "We came out of it alive."
The strategy worked. Bryant kept passing the ball and his teammates kept missing shots.
Sloan "made the adjustment … made [Bryant] give up the ball," Williams said.
So just when it looked like the Lakers would overcome the the Jazz's inspiring effort, everything changed. Convinced the Jazz never get any breaks against the Lakers? Consider this sequence: They're down by three, Kirilenko's 23-footer from the corner travels 22 feet, and the ball is knocked out of bounds. After a lengthy video review, the Jazz keep the ball. Jefferson then misses an inside shot, and the ball again goes off a Laker. Williams drills a tying 3-pointer.
After Williams' steal of Bryant's pass led to Bell's layup, the Jazz were ahead to stay. The celebration was in full swing.
"It was just amazing, man," Jefferson said. "I'm overwhelmed."
Five months or so from now, the Jazz will remember this game. Maybe more importantly, so will the Lakers.