for this game

Williams lifts Jazz to dramatic victory over Lakers

Feb 12, 2009 - 6:43 AM SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant nearly broke the Utah Jazz's backs on Wednesday. But Deron Williams and the Jazz shook it off and finished to go into the All-Star break on a collective high.

Williams posted 31 points and 11 assists and set up two game-changing scoring plays in the last 90 seconds to lead the Jazz to a hard-fought, 113-109 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, the top team in the Western Conference.

"It was a big win and I feel like our guys played extremely well," Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan said. "We made a couple of mistakes, but I thought we held our composure. D-Will had a great game trying to get different guys the ball."

After leading for much of the fourth quarter, Utah nearly gave the game away with a period of self-destruction, as the team missed 6-of-8 free throws in a span of 3:35. That set the stage for the Lakers to rally back, culminating in Kobe Bryant's ice-cold 3-pointer in C.J. Miles' face with 1:36 left, giving his club a 105-104 edge.

"Phenomenal. Best player in the league. That's what he does," Miles said. "I was mad he made it. But at the same time, he makes shots. I just had to make sure I was there every time."

But even with all the attention focused on Williams on the other end, the star point guard made things happen anyway. First he found Paul Millsap cutting to the basket for a dunk that the third-year forward converted into a three-point play. After Bryant tied things up with a layup, Williams hit Mehmet Okur on the perimeter for a go-ahead 3-pointer that lifted the already-raucous Salt Lake City crowd to its feet.

"I had nowhere to go, I had to catch and shoot," Okur said. "Deron did a good job. He drove inside and created a 3-point shot opportunity for us. I knew it was going to come for me."

With less than 10 seconds to play, the Lakers had two chances to tie, but Derek Fisher missed two attempts from long range as the Jazz escaped, snapping Los Angeles' seven-game winning streak in the process.

"Coach Sloan always says you can make up for your mistakes by answering," Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer said. "I missed some crucial free throws throughout the game and I just tried to make it up with effort."

From the beginning of the game until the end, neither team ever was in control.

The Jazz led for most of the first half, but never by more than a few points - and it didn't take much for the Lakers to push right back.

Late in the second quarter, they punished the Jazz inside, as Bryant, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol buried layups on three straight possessions and Bryant knocked down a 16-footer to open up a four-point edge and carry some momentum into halftime.

"We played a lethargic first half," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The bench came in and played good and kept us going in the ballgame. I think our starters tried to rally at the end of the half and did a good job doing it."

Much of the night was a battle between Bryant and Williams, who were teammates on the gold medal-winning Olympic team last summer and spent some time guarding each other in this one. With Utah holding a one-point edge midway through the third, Williams muscled inside and kicked out to Okur, who connected from long range.

Bryant answered with a jumper and a layup, but Williams came right back at him, taking the reigning MVP to the hole for a layup, drawing the foul and completing the three-point play. One possession later, the fourth-year point guard crossed Bryant over and buried a 15-footer to give the Jazz an 80-73 advantage.

"He's better than I thought he was, which is saying a lot," Bryant said of Williams. "He's one of the best in the world. Playing with him, you get a chance to see how great he really is."

Williams registered his fifth straight game with 30 or more points, going 12-of-17 from the floor in this one. Okur added 22 points and eight rebounds.

"These are the best games, man. I don't care," Miles said. "People think when you blow somebody out, those are the best games, everybody gets in. (But) these are the gut checks, when the game is back and forth like that. They're the best to play in."

With the win, the Jazz get the benefit - a psychological edge, at the very least - of going into the break as a playoff team. Coupled with Phoenix's loss, the Jazz now have the eighth spot in the West to themselves and 1 1/2 games behind seventh-place New Orleans.

As currently situated, they would face off with the Lakers in the first round - not exactly unfamiliar territory. Los Angeles ousted Utah in six games during last spring's conference semifinals.

No Jazz players will be participating in All-Star Weekend - not even in any of the side events - so they may have a prime opportunity to get back to some semblance of full health before play resumes next week. Injured forwards Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko, both still recovering from surgery, expect to be back on the court soon after the break.

"We can go on a run," Okur said. "Hopefully, we're going to get healthy and we're going to be on the same page and we're going to go from there."

Bryant led the Lakers with 37 points on 14-of-33 shooting, while Odom - making his sixth straight start in lieu of the injured Andrew Bynum - added 19 and 19 boards in a losing cause.

"They just beat us," Odom said. "We usually are a little tougher at the end of games mentally. Tonight I think we could have done a better job."