Kragthorpe: Jazz's Price thrives in spotlight vs. Lakers
In the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers have given Ronnie Price four stitches, a new contract and some of the best moments of his NBA career.
This is one Jazzman who loves L.A.
The reserve point guard was up to his usual stuff against the Lakers in Sunday's Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, leading the Jazz's charge into the lead in the fourth quarter of a game they ultimately lost, 104-99.
The annual series with the Lakers provides the Jazz varying degrees of futility and not much more, except there's always a showcase of Price's work.
There's just something about those guys that inspires him.
"They're the best team in the NBA, and they've been the best team in the West for a few years," Price said before the Jazz's practice Monday. "It's fun to be on the court, period. But to go against the best, there's nothing more challenging and nothing you wouldn't want to be a part of."
He sure acted that way Sunday, when the Jazz outscored the Lakers by seven points in the 9 minutes, 25 seconds he was on the Staples Center floor. Yeah, too bad the Jazz were stuck with Deron Williams for the other 38:35, right?
Price did have the benefit of mostly going against Jordan Farmar and the other Laker reserves, which is why the "plus-minus" statistic can be deceiving for measuring a player's impact. Yet there's no doubt that the Jazz thrived with Price in the game for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, when they used a 12-1 run to take a three-point lead.
Because he plays limited minutes behind Williams, little is expected of Price. So when he does much of anything, he's noticeable. Doing it against the Lakers certainly helps.
"When he's aggressive offensively and defensively, he does great," Williams said. "He just came out there and hustled all over the court."
Williams labeled Price a "game-changer," which also applied to his play in previous series with the Lakers:
» In Game 4 of a second-round series in 2008, Price needed four stitches above his eye after taking a vicious hit from ex-Lakers forward Ronny Turiaf in the second quarter. He returned in the fourth period and drove for a three-point play, then later hustled back and blocked Luke Walton's breakaway layup in a game the Jazz won in overtime to tie the series.
» In Game 5 of the first round last spring, when the Jazz trailed by 19 points and generally seemed interested only in ending the season, Price checked in late in the third quarter and helped pull them within six points in the last four minutes. He recorded eight points, five assists and three rebounds and battled to the end, personally becoming the Jazz's only redeeming element of that game.
The Jazz might have re-signed him anyway, but there's no doubt that his effort in that situation impressed management.
As this season began, Price shared the few minutes behind Williams with rookie Eric Maynor, who was traded to Oklahoma City in December. Now that he's the full-time backup again, his assignment of maintaining the Jazz's level of play with their All-Star on the bench remains difficult.
Yet Price managed to pull the Jazz ahead of Denver in the close-out Game 6 last Friday when Williams missed the last six minutes of the third quarter with foul trouble. Price played down the stretch alongside Williams and finished with 12 points.
Then came Game 1 against the Lakers, as Price posted two points, two assists, two steals and three rebounds.
Well, it's the Lakers' own fault.
"Who wouldn't want to play against the best? That's why I've always played this game, since I was a kid," Price said. "It's a fun challenge; you either accept it or you don't."
Every spring, Price leaves no doubt about his response.
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