Taking a salt licking

Times Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Lakers hadn’t experienced a crowd like this in a while, or a loss in more than a month, but both came at the same time, much to their detriment.

A series is now much closer to being exactly that, as confetti fell that wasn’t purple and gold for the first time in seemingly forever, the Utah Jazz fighting off the Lakers with a 104-99 victory Friday in Game 3 at EnergySolutions Arena.

Carlos Boozer was back in a big way, getting 27 points and 20 rebounds after a nearly invisible first two games, Mehmet Okur had 22, and Utah cut its deficit to 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinals. Game 4 is Sunday in Utah.

An NBA team has never come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, something Utah won’t have to worry about.


The Lakers committed 18 turnovers and made five of 23 three-point shots (21.7%), stats that won’t help any team on the road in the playoffs.

Kobe Bryant had 34 points and seven assists, leading the Lakers in a fourth-quarter comeback, though he and his teammates had a few costly gaffes down the stretch.

Pau Gasol had arguably his most ineffective game with the Lakers -- 12 points, six rebounds, five turnovers and numerous appeals to referees in a distracted 40 minutes.

The Lakers were never quite out of it, though their hot-and-cold defense guaranteed the Jazz would never be out of it, either. Boozer ran around without any parameters and was dominant in the end, scoring eight points in a span of 2:43 that kept the Lakers just far enough away.

Not since a 112-103 loss in Portland on April 8 had they lost a game. They had won 10 consecutive games, six in the playoffs.

“I thought we came back, had our shot,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “I told the guys they made a good comeback. They just couldn’t pick the right place in the right time.”

Jazz fans weren’t merely observing the game as much as inhaling it, standing for a large part of a tense fourth quarter and living up to much of the pregame fervor out here.

The front page of the Salt Lake Tribune proclaimed that the “Lakers Are Coming,” along with a story synopsis on the front page of the sports section that said, “Here they come, the purple and gold uniforms Jazz fans love to hate the most.”

The Lakers could only hate themselves afterward, even though they used three steals in a row to cut a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to three at 95-92.

With the Lakers down five, Bryant slipped and lost the ball with 2:53 to play. More egregiously, Luke Walton coughed up the ball after Gasol won a jump ball with 14 seconds to play and the Lakers down, 103-99. It looked as if Walton was trying to make a quick pass, but he never gained full possession, allowing Kyle Korver to get credit for a steal.

The game ended with Gasol throwing a pass to nobody, the ball drifting out of bounds near where Gasol thought Bryant still stood.

Somehow, it made sense to finish it that way, a fitting picture on a fitful night for the visitors.

“We turned the ball over quite a bit,” said Bryant, who couldn’t contain his frustration on the Walton play, raising his palms in the air and scowling in Walton’s direction. “It was kind of a muck play.”

The Lakers pushed through a foul-fest to take Game 1 and rode the subject of the pregame MVP ceremony to win Game 2.

Game 3 was a taller order, going up against a team that was 37-4 at home during the regular season. Of course, the Lakers hung one of those four losses on the Jazz in a 106-95 stroll through Salt Lake City two months ago without Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

This was different, even with Gasol in the lineup.

Gasol failed to get to the free throw line, had one assist and was criticized by Jackson afterward for “looking at the referees every time he got stripped.”

“We did expect them to play more comfortable and confident,” Gasol said. “We didn’t play well at all.”

Utah led at halftime, 52-43, as the Lakers had 10 turnovers and shot 41.2%, which pretty much explained everything.

Bryant, who had eight points on one-for-five shooting in the first half, kept the Lakers close with 26 points in the second half.

Armed with the knowledge that the Lakers still lead the series and hold home-court advantage, Bryant downplayed what had unfolded.

“We don’t get too up. We don’t get too down,” he said. “We’ll just continue to punch the clock.”



Game 4: Lakers at Utah Sunday, 12:30 p.m. PDT (Ch. 7)



Best-of-seven-series; *if necessary

Game 1: May 4 at Staples, Lakers 109, Utah 98

Game 2: May 7 at Staples, Lakers 120, Utah 110

Game 3: May 9 at Utah, Utah 104, Lakers 99

Game 4: Sunday at Utah, 12:30 p.m. PDT, Channel 7

Game 5: Wednesday, Utah at Lakers, TBA

Game 6: Friday, Lakers at Utah, TBA*

Game 7: May 19, Utah at Lakers, TBA*