Sunday smackdown

Times Staff Writer

New series, new style, same result.

The Lakers took on the rough-hewn Utah Jazz and almost fumbled a 19-point lead amid a festival of fouls, but still secured Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, 109-98, Sunday at Staples Center.

It was more prosaic than poetic, though it was also the Lakers' fifth victory in as many playoff games. Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Wednesday at Staples Center.

If the Denver Nuggets tore up and down the court while collecting a slew of emotionally charged flagrant and technical fouls in the first round, Utah was more precise and physically demanding, outrebounding the Lakers by a whopping 58-41 margin and committing a foul every 87 seconds.

The Lakers, to their credit, knocked down their free throws after getting knocked around, comporting themselves with enough character to fend off the Jazz.

The stat that stood out: Kobe Bryant scored 38 points mainly by making 21 of 23 free throws, passing the old franchise playoff record of 20 made free throws shared by Magic Johnson and Jerry West.

"That was our biggest scoring threat of the night right there," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.

The Lakers might want to get used to it.

Utah committed 33 fouls in Game 1, a bonanza even by its standards after averaging a league-leading 24 a game during the regular season.

There was nothing dirty, no temper flare-ups as in the Denver series, but the Lakers already know what to expect in Game 2.

"They'll be more physical," said Lamar Odom, who had 16 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 44 seconds to play. "They're going to come out and really try to hit us, and we have to adjust."

Even Jackson got caught in the scrum, getting hit in the knee after Utah guard Ronnie Brewer smacked into him while chasing a loose ball in front of the Lakers' bench.

It was that kind of game and will probably be that type of series.

The Lakers were cruising, showing no ill effects of a six-day break between games after taking a 68-49 lead on two Odom free throws with 7:33 left in the third quarter.

Then the fouls came in droves, followed by a slew of free throws. There were 24 fouls and 31 free throws taken in the fourth quarter.

One by one, the Jazz starters started walking off the court with six fouls. Carlos Boozer fouled out with 3:28 to play. Andrei Kirilenko joined him a few minutes later. Even the mild-mannered Brewer had five fouls.

Fortunately for the Lakers, Bryant was almost perfect from the line.

He made 18 consecutive free throws before rimming one out with 3:28 to play.

"We haven't played against a team like Utah and their physicality. It takes a little getting used to," he said. "I'm just happy that we were able to sustain a game like this and know what we can expect going into Game 2."

It wasn't always a slog-in-a-bog game.

Lakers fans were enthralled when the video before player introductions proclaimed that "The heart of the city beats again."

They also booed when Boston's lopsided Game 7 victory over Atlanta was shown on the scoreboard.

There were enough plays that qualified for rewind-and-watch-again status, particularly in the final minutes.

Bryant and Pau Gasol (18 points and 10 rebounds) worked the give-and-go to perfection, Gasol converting on a layup for a 98-90 lead with 1:33 to play.

Less than a minute later, Gasol took a long lead pass from Bryant, waited for Kyle Korver to fly by him and scored on a layup for a 101-90 lead.

That the Lakers finished so strong was of particular importance after Brewer's fastbreak layup cut their lead to 91-87 with 4:44 to play.

Sasha Vujacic continued to provide a flash off the bench, scoring 15 points in 16 minutes, making all five of his free throws and both of his three-point attempts.

Vujacic even outscored Utah guard Deron Williams, who had 14 points on five-for-18 shooting. Boozer had 15 points and 14 rebounds.

In the end, though, the game was marked by fouls and trips to the line.

The Lakers made 38 of 46 free throws, the Jazz 22 of 30.

"I think in the second half the rhythm of the game was just broken because there was just so many fouls, so many free throws," Bryant said.

"It kind of mucked the game up a little bit. Our offensive rhythm was a little bit distorted."


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