Kobe Bryant made the Jazz defense look like Golden State's in the fourth quarter of Sunday's Game 1.
It takes a nearly perfect effort to beat the Lakers. And if that effort isn’t quite perfect, it’s best not to let those slight imperfections manifest themselves at the end of the fourth quarter.
But that is what Utah did Sunday, surrendering a very winnable Game 1 to the defending champions 104-99 in which it had a lead with as little as 3:16 left to play in the final period.
Despite permitting the Lakers to shoot 53 percent from the field for the game, the Jazz played admirable defense. Los Angeles shot just 2-16 from three-point range, and Utah allowed the Lakers to score only one point in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter as the Jazz crawled their way to a lead from an eight-point deficit.
Then, at the 3:16 mark, it all went downhill. Coach Jerry Sloan assigned small forward C.J. Miles to guard Kobe Bryant one-on-one, and the Lakers isolated the entire left side of the court for Kobe to take Miles on his own.
Kobe began to back him down, and as he forced him back to the left elbow, Miles reacted to a push by flopping over in an attempt to take a charge. As a result, Kobe had an open lane for a jump shot, and the late rotation for the contest resulted in Kobe’s and-one conversion.
Thereafter, Sloan elected to have the stronger Wesley Matthews take Kobe on defense. With about 55 seconds left in the game and the Lakers up one, Matthews successfully defended Bryant and forced him into a fall-away turnaround jumper from 14 feet. The shot missed, but Carlos Boozer failed to block out Lamar Odom, who corralled the offensive board and put it back up for the easy layup.
Lastly, with about 24 seconds left to play, Matthews was guarding Kobe one-on-one by the logo; the other four Jazz players were standing near the four corners of the lane. Kobe drove, and Matthews went for the strip — so he was beat. Then, in a display of some of the most regrettable defense of all time, Kobe sliced directly down the middle of the lane, without so much as a glance from one of the Jazz players, for an easy layup.
It was one of the easiest dagger shots I’ve ever seen in an NBA game, as it put the Lakers up five with minimal time on the clock.
Utah will have to give a fuller effort in the next several games if it hopes to knock off LA. Forgetting to box out and trying for a strip on Kobe when he’s running at full speed from center court are incredibly unwise decisions.
By the way, C.J. Miles, a referee will never call that offensive foul on Kobe, regardless of how much of a foul it was, at that juncture of the game. And it’s just not smart to flop like that with no one to help on defense behind you.
Hopefully when Andrei Kirilenko returns to the Jazz (supposedly in Game 3), these defensive miscues will fade away.