for this game

Bryant, Lakers cruise past Jazz in Game One

May 5, 2008 - 12:27 AM By Jonathan Raber PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant did a little of everything to help the Los Angeles Lakers steer clear of a potential setback.

Bryant poured in 24 of his 38 points in the first half to lead the Lakers to a 109-98 victory over the Utah Jazz to capture Game One of their Western Conference semifinals series Sunday.

Pau Gasol chipped in 18 points and 10 rebounds and Lamar Odom had 16 and nine for the Lakers, who will host Game Two here Wednesday night after it was originally scheduled for Tuesday.

"We avoided a game in which we easily could of come up on the losing end of," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

In their first game following a six-day break, the Lakers appeared fully rested. They had the advantage over the Jazz, who took the court less than 40 hours after eliminating the Houston Rockets.

Utah looked sluggish at times, particularly in the second quarter which saw 18 missed shots and seven turnovers. Still, the Jazz refused to blame their performance on the short turnaround time.

"I'm not going to make excuses," Jazz guard Deron Williams said. "This is the playoffs, you've got to get up for every game like it's your last. They just beat us tonight."

The lay-off was just fine for Los Angeles.

"Maybe, it was the fact that we were well-rested that gave us the victory," Jackson said.

Bryant, who reportedly will capture his first league Most Valuable Player Award later in the week, put on a performance worthy of the honor. He nailed a postseason career high and franchise record 21 free throws while adding seven assists and six rebounds.

"It's extremely important because they are easy baskets," Bryant said. "They're open looks. If you go up there and miss two free throws, it can change momentum, it's as good as a turnover."

The 10-time All-Star did it despite cold shooting in the fourth quarter. Bryant hit just 1-of-6 shots in the period but made up for it with a pair of timely assists down the stretch.

Leading by as many as nine in the fourth, the Lakers saw the Jazz go on a 7-2 run to get them as close as 91-87 with 4:44 left. But the Jazz would go scoreless over the next two minutes, and the Lakers would take advantage.

With it only a two-possession game, Bryant found Gasol streaking to the basket on consecutive plays, the latter putting Los Angeles ahead 101-90 with just under a minute remaining.

"We stayed focused even though they had those runs, we weathered the storms and I think we did a good job of staying together," Lakers center Ronny Turiaf said.

Bryant was brilliant in a dominant opening half in which he hit all 11 free-throw attempts, as the Lakers built up a 51-34 advantage thanks to 17-6 spurt which spanned a good portion of the second quarter.

"I'm just trying to read the defense," Bryant said. "Obviously, our team has a lot of shooters and guys who can make plays, so I think in the first half we were very concerned with that, getting open lanes to the basket and driving and penetrating."

A 3-pointer by Williams to beat the buzzer cut Lakers' lead to 79-72 heading into the final quarter.

"The game was right there for us, we just couldn't get it and, hopefully, we will learn our lesson from this game, and we have to look forward," Jazz center Mehmet Okur said.

Okur collected 21 points and a playoff career-high 19 rebounds and Williams had 14, nine and nine assists for the Jazz, who outrebounded the Lakers, 58-41, which included 25 offensive boards.

    UTAH 98

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    Jazz vs. LakersMay 4 1:26 PM