Lakers' big lead vanishes in loss to Jazz
By LYNN DeBRUIN
AP Sports Writer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers have knocked the Utah Jazz down to size in recent years.
"That's no longer an excuse for us," said Utah center Al Jefferson, who held his own (20 points, eight rebounds) against big men Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom as the Jazz rallied from a 19-point deficit Friday night to upset the two-time defending champions 102-96.
"We went against all odds. It was just amazing, man. I'm overwhelmed. I've never experienced something like this before and to be a part of it meant a lot to me."
The Jazz made the league take notice earlier this month when they rallied from double-digit deficits in five straight games, including road wins against Miami and Orlando.
This win, on the heels of an 18-point victory over New Orleans on Wednesday, gave the Jazz (12-5) even more confidence.
"It proved that we can play with the best of them," Jefferson said.
They certainly showed they can rebound with the best.
Entering Friday's game, the Jazz ranked 25th in the league in rebounding. After the first quarter, the Lakers (13-3) held a 13-5 advantage on the boards as they jumped to a 33-17 lead.
When it was over, the Jazz had a 42-38 rebounding edge and their fourth straight victory -- against a team that had swept them out of the playoffs last season in the Western Conference semifinals.
Deron Williams led the Jazz with 29 points, with a key 3-pointer and steal in the final 76 seconds, and Andrei Kirilenko grabbed two big rebounds down the stretch as Utah held on for the win before a sellout crowd at Energy Solutions Arena.
"I haven't beat the Lakers in probably six years (actually since his rookie season in March 2005)," said Jefferson, acquired in an offseason trade with lowly Minnesota. "It felt like a playoff game ... We fought back. We didn't give up."
While much of the pregame talk was about the big men and how the Lakers still held an advantage in height and length, the shortest players on the court came up huge for Utah.
Ronnie Price and Earl Watson, at 6-foot-2 and 6-1, respectively, ignited an 11-0 run to pull the Jazz to 39-32 after Los Angeles had taken a 19-point lead.
Price started the run with a running one-handed slam on a pass from Watson -- a dunk Jefferson rated as "10."
Watson and Price then hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Paul Millsap followed with a three-point play off a nice pass underneath from Watson. Watson, who had a season-high eight points, would take it the length of the court to pull Utah to 39-32 with 6:08 remaining.
"We just feed off each other," Price said.
And the starters feed off the energy generated by Utah's second unit.
"The second unit once again was big for us," Jefferson said. "They brought the energy back. Then our captain, our leader (Williams), that boy is something special. That's all I can say about him. He brought us home."
Utah players said no one panicked when the Jazz fell down 19.
And no one panicked after Kobe Bryant scored 14 straight points for Los Angeles to put the Lakers up 96-91 with 2:12 left.
"Our coach did a great job of making an adjustment, doubling Kobe, getting the ball out of his hands," Williams said. "Once we did that, the rest of the team got stagnant because they were kind of counting on him to carry them home."
Bryant, who was 5 of 15 at one point, finished with 31 points. Gasol added 21 points and 11 rebounds.
"They are a great team," said Bryant, who before the game called Williams the best point guard in the league. "They got a lot of talent. They play that way all the time. You can take the softest player in the league and put him on the Jazz and he'll turn into a tough guy."
Where does that toughness start?
Williams pointed to his heart.
"It's just attitude that we have," said Williams, who had his ninth double-double of the season. "The second group does a good job of coming in and getting after people and it rubs off on everybody."
If only the Jazz can survive the first few quarters, he said they're as good as anybody.
NOTES: Lakers coach Phil Jackson offered an apology of sorts Friday to Stan Van Gundy over comments made recently in which he stated Pat Riley could replace Erik Spoelstra as the Heat's coach if the team's performance did not improve. He called it the "Van Gundy situation." "Stan felt he had to stay something. Unfortunately he got defensive. I didn't mean to do that. I should apologize (because) I do not know the situation."...The Lakers used Thanksgiving's off day for a 20-minute "turkey trot" scrimmage, minus Bryant and Gasol, with the team's physical therapists officiating. "It was like a rugby game out there for a while," Jackson said, noting the "big" team won for only the second time. ...The Lakers shot 68.4 percent in the first quarter and have now outscored the Jazz 188-134 in the first quarters of the past six games. ...The Lakers shot only 26.7 percent from the 3-point line, their worst of the season.
Updated November 26, 2010