NBA: Bryant rallies Lakers past Jazz in second-round opener
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES — Just in case the Utah Jazz forgot how Kobe Bryant finishes games, he provided another painful playoff reminder.
Bryant scored 11 of his 31 points in the final four minutes, and the Los Angeles Lakers blew a fourth-quarter lead before rallying for a 104-99 victory over the Jazz in their second-round series opener Sunday.
Pau Gasol had 25 points and 12 rebounds for the top-seeded Lakers, who played a dismal final period before Bryant seized control. Last season's NBA finals MVP coolly scored seven consecutive points to erase Utah's four-point lead, followed by a dynamic slice through the lane for a layup with 22.6 seconds left.
The clubs are meeting in the postseason for the third consecutive year after the Lakers ended Utah's last two seasons, including a first-round victory in 2009. In each of the teams' previous five playoff meetings, the winner went on to the NBA finals.
Deron Williams scored 24 points for fifth-seeded Utah, which managed just one more field goal after taking a 93-89 lead with 4:10 to play. Utah has lost 15 straight to the Lakers at Staples Center, including seven playoff games.
Los Angeles will host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series on Tuesday night.
Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Utah. Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles contributed 16 points apiece, including several difficult baskets in the fourth quarter while the Jazz surged ahead with a 12-1 run.
It wasn't enough to stop Bryant, who took over right when Utah's excited bench seemed certain it was headed to an upset win.
Both teams finished their first-round series roughly 36 hours earlier, with the Lakers winning at Oklahoma City on Gasol's last-second tip-in shortly before Utah held off Denver.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum started and played 24 minutes after discovering a small tear in the meniscus of his right knee Saturday. The 7-footer wore a large brace on his knee, but didn't appear limited while collecting eight points and 10 rebounds.
Utah also has pronounced injury problems. With Andrei Kirilenko still sidelined with a strained left calf and center Mehmet Okur out for the postseason, the Jazz struggled to guard the Lakers inside when Los Angeles forced the ball down low.
But the Lakers sometimes seemed disinterested, a mood matched by the home crowd. After the Lakers' consecutive losses to Oklahoma City inspired a crackling atmosphere for their blowout victory in Game 5 last week, Staples Center was back to its usual relaxed state.
Los Angeles gave out thousands of white T-shirts in an apparent attempt at a whiteout crowd to go with the Lakers' Sunday white uniforms, but the majority of fans didn't bother to put on the shirts. Lakers fans get excited about titles, not T-shirts — and despite an inconsistent regular season, their team appears capable of contending for its 16th crown.
Williams injured his elbow late in Utah's series-clinching win over Denver, putting his availability for Game 1 in doubt. He forced the Jazz to call a full timeout just 20 seconds in after hurting his arm on their first possession. Yet he showed no obvious favor toward the injury while scoring 17 points in the first half.
Los Angeles opened with 15-for-19 shooting in the first quarter, including five shots without a miss by Bryant. The Lakers led by 14 in the first half, but Utah sliced the lead to three in the third quarter before heading into the final period trailing 81-73.
With both teams using four reserves apiece to open the fourth quarter, Utah trimmed the Lakers' lead to 82-81 on Millsap's layup with 7:43 left. Miles' free throws gave Utah its first lead since the first quarter moments later — but then Bryant got started.