LOS ANGELES (AP)—The 3-pointers, slam dunks and Kobe Bryant’s fadeaway jumper as he fell on his backside were all impressive.
Bryant and the Lakers are moving on in the NBA playoffs—as if that was really in doubt. It’s just that even as they ran away from the Jazz 107-96 on Monday night, they still left some questions about their defense.
With Bryant scoring 31 points and Lamar Odom adding 26 points and 15 rebounds, the Lakers finished the opening-round series in five games to earn a few days rest.
They move on to play the winner of the Portland-Houston series.
The partying fans at Staples Arena—and the Lakers—were slapped back to reality as the Jazz came back in the closing minutes, cutting the lead to 93-86 with 4:37 left. Bryant hit a turnaround jumper and Odom finished a fast break with a slam dunk to fend off Utah’s late run.
“We’ve got to give a better effort defensively when our second unit comes in there, getting back on defense, not giving up easy baskets, stuff like that,” Bryant said. “We’ve got a week here before the next series to have a spirited conversation with the group and see if we can’t correct that for the next series.”
The Lakers didn’t want to have to go back to Salt Lake City, the site of their Game 3 collapse—when they blew a 13-point, third-quarter lead—and their Game 4 bounceback.
Bryant doesn’t care who the Lakers play next.
“I’m just ready for the next series, whoever it is,” he said. “We have to kind of go over it and evaluate it and see what areas we can exploit offensively and defensively. It’s different than playing in the regular season.”
Bryant had a welt under his right eye. The Lakers acknowledged that Utah was a tough opponent despite being the No. 8 seed.
“I think it will prep us for what we have to do as we go along,” coach Phil Jackson said. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
It was a disappointing end for a Jazz team that had high expectations.
“Injuries kind of affected us and we really weren’t able to ever get into a rhythm,” point guard Deron Williams said. “We kind of headed downhill toward the playoffs and we just really didn’t get the type of effort we needed to win a series.”
Although it wasn’t the most artistic game at times, the Lakers got the shots to fall when they needed them most.
If there was any question that this was going to be the Lakers’ night on their home court, Bryant answered that in the closing seconds of the first half.
He drove the lane and passed to Pau Gasol. The ball was batted loose and Bryant grabbed it, turned and sank a fadeaway jumper as he fell on his rear end, giving the Lakers a 56-43 halftime lead.
By late in the third quarter, the Lakers were toying with the Jazz. Bryant made a layup, hit a 3-pointer and fed Gasol for a slam dunk. Odom added a bucket and just like that it was 80-58.
The crowd spent the ensuing timeout cheering the celebrities shown on the big screen at Staples Center—John McEnroe, Dustin Hoffman, Glenn Frey and, of course, Jack Nicholson.
“We’re happy that we got the win, but I don’t think we’re happy about how we won so we have to pay attention and stay focused on closing games out,” Lakers forward Trevor Ariza said.
Gasol had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Ariza 12 points for the Lakers.
The Lakers weren’t particularly sharp in the first quarter, and the Jazz held on for a 26-all tie.
But when the Jazz took out Williams starting the second quarter, the Lakers went on an 8-0 that put them ahead for good. Odom and Bryant each hit a 3-pointer and Bryant made two free throws for a 34-26 lead.
By BERNIE WILSON