A spinal trap for Lakers

Times Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY -- Kobe Bryant frowned and pulled out his newest acquisition, an electro-stimulation device that traveled along his aching back.

It was turned up a little too high for his comfort, another microcosmic jolt felt by the Lakers in their unexpectedly charged-up Western Conference semifinal against the Utah Jazz.

Bryant was walking gingerly and deliberately after Game 4, as were the Lakers on the whole, unable to stop the Jazz from tying the best-of-seven series with a 123-115 overtime victory at EnergySolutions Arena.

Game 5 is Wednesday at Staples Center, and the events of Sunday guaranteed a Game 6 in Utah.

Less of a sure thing would be a fully healthy Bryant, probably the last thing the Lakers wanted to ponder.

Bryant said he felt a "catch" in his back while attempting a 15-foot turnaround on the Lakers' second possession of the game. He is listed as day-to-day because of back spasms.

He scored 33 points against the Jazz and led a comeback in the fourth quarter with his passing (six assists), although he missed six of seven shots in overtime and five of six in the fourth quarter.

He has experienced the gamut of injuries in his 12-year career -- a torn labrum in his shoulder, a handful of knee issues, a torn finger ligament, plantar fasciitis in his foot -- but back problems are a rarity for him.

He briefly went down on the court twice Sunday because his back flared up, but said as he walked to the team bus that he would play in Game 5.

"You know it," he said.

The Lakers will need a functioning Bryant, obviously, in a series that swung in the other direction after they built a two-game lead.

Deron Williams carved them up with 29 points and 14 assists, and the Jazz exhibited team basketball with 32 assists on 40 field goals.

The Lakers had issues other than medical ones.

They made a woeful 14 of 25 free throws (56%) and saw their reserves badly outscored by those of the Jazz, 39-16.

On top of it, Ronny Turiaf was ejected because of a flagrant foul after sending Utah guard Ronnie Price crashing to the court on a drive with 10:07 to go in the second quarter. Price needed four stitches above his right eye, and Turiaf faces a possible suspension for Game 5, though it is unlikely.

It wasn't a pretty ending for the Lakers, who forced overtime thanks to a lively rally in the final minutes.

They trailed by 12 with four minutes to play, but Derek Fisher connected on three three-pointers (all on assists from Bryant) and Lamar Odom followed Bryant's miss with a layup with 4.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Fisher blocked Williams' 20-foot attempt just before time expired in regulation.

The Lakers weren't nearly as efficient in overtime, compiling a log of missed shots as well as a fumbled opportunity to take a 3-1 lead back to Los Angeles.

Bryant missed a 22-footer and a layup. Pau Gasol failed on a reverse dunk attempt. Bryant missed another layup, then a three-point attempt, and the Lakers had only two points in overtime until Bryant's free throws with 24.5 seconds left.

By then, the Jazz had a seven-point lead.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson typically opens his postgame media session with a general statement, but he didn't after Game 4.

"I really don't have anything to say," he said. "I'll just take questions now."

Jackson later said he was angry at Bryant's teammates for giving Bryant the ball too quickly on overtime possessions, and then standing around and watching.

"I felt guys just bailed out on him," Jackson said.

Odom and Gasol combined for two shots and two points in overtime. Overall, Odom had had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Gasol 23 and 10.

Bryant spoke to reporters for less than two minutes before leaving to continue what will be a couple of days' worth of electro-stim therapy.

During the game, he had a heat wrap on his lower back when on the bench. He also laid on the court next to the Lakers' bench for a few minutes at the end of the third quarter.

Bryant, after getting his shot blocked on a layup attempt late in the third quarter, fell to the court and stayed on his back while the Lakers gave up a layup at the other end. He eventually got up, slowly.

He also dropped to his knees after drawing a blocking foul on Andrei Kirilenko with 2:53 left in overtime. Bryant slapped the court with his hands and stayed hunched over for several seconds.

"The back's a little different because you've got to make some adjustments," he said. "You can't run like you want to, cut like you want to."

Words the Lakers didn't want to hear in a series they certainly didn't want to turn into this.



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