Bryant unstoppable again in Game 4
Too much Kobe Bryant.
In the end, the Lakers' All-Star was the difference in the Utah Jazz's Western Conference semifinal playoff series against Los Angeles.
L.A. wrapped up the series with a 111-96 victory in Game 4 on Monday night at Energy-Solutions Arena.
Bryant scored 20 of his 32 points in the second half, when the Jazz tried to rally from a slow start but could not come all the way back from a 22-point deficit.
After the Lakers became the first team to ever sweep the Jazz in a best-of-seven series, coach Jerry Sloan remembered a play in Game 1, when Bryant scored 13 of the Lakers' final 19 points and rallied late to win, 104-99.
"... There were seven seconds on the [shot] clock and he gets the ball deep in the corner and you think you should be able to stop that," Sloan said. "But obviously we didn't. It banged around up there and fell in and that's just the beginning of what you [got] to see from him."
Sloan called Bryant "... a great player and a great competitor. I don't know what all you can say about him. He's just a wonderful player."
Bryant ended up scoring 30 points or more in all four games against Utah.
He is the only opponent in Jazz playoff history to score at least 30 in four straight games and now he's done it twice in three years.
"Kobe was persistent, aggressive," Laker coach Phil Jackson said. "That's how he [was] in the course of the second half, to carry [our] lead."
Bryant started quickly in Game 4.
He scored six of the Lakers' first 12 points, including two on a driving layup that started a stretch when L.A. converted eight of nine possessions and turned a 13-10 deficit into a 27-24 lead.
Bryant had 12 points at halftime before scoring 12 more in the third quarter, when the Jazz got as close as five after once trailing, 57-35.
With the Lakers' leading 70-65, Bryant scored five points during a quarter-closing 10-2 run that put Utah into an 80-67 hole heading into the fourth quarter.
From there, Bryant and the Lakers held the Jazz at arm's length and eliminated Utah from the playoffs for the third straight year.
Along the way, the Jazz simply couldn't stop Bryant.
In the first three games, he averaged 32 points, or 29 percent of the Lakers' offensive production.
"He's just a tremendous player," said C.J. Miles. "We don't want to put him on the line because then he really gets into a groove. So we just have to stay in front of him and make the shots difficult."
Rookie Wesley Matthews, who shared most of the defensive duties against Bryant with Miles, called Bryant "... a great playmaker and a great one-on-one player. You just have to make things difficult for him."
Kyle Korver agreed.
"You just have to make him work for his shots and try to not let him get to the spots he wants to get to -- that he's comfortable with," Korver said. "But that's tough because he's comfortable in a lot of places on the floor."
Sloan compared Bryant's ability to lead his team to former Jazz stars John Stockton and Karl Malone.
"I hate to talk about the past, but we could run a play and get [Stockton and Malone] a good shot because they knew how to get it done," he said. "And Kobe, obviously, has that ability."
During a first-round series against Oklahoma City, Bryant struggled with injuries and some suggested he was wearing out after a long season.
Maybe he was getting old?
Or maybe not.
"That's what they call experience," Sloan said, "and experience is a great teacher."
In this series, Bryant taught the Jazz another lesson, which ended in Game 4.
"The thing about close-out games, you have a tendency to lose focus," Bryant said. "It was important for us to maintain what we've been doing -- the attention to detail we've been doing. That's really the key -- to stay steady. And we did that."