Ever so humble
The Lakers actually won a playoff opener on their home court, which Boston, San Antonio, Orlando and alleged up-and-comer Portland couldn’t claim.
But nobody beyond a briefly optimistic Kobe Bryant seemed enthusiastic about a 113-100 victory Sunday over the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of a best-of-seven series.
A 22-point Lakers halftime lead turned into a choppy, unsettled ending, the Lakers finally giving their fans something to cheer about in the second half when Bryant dunked after a drive down the lane with 1:26 to play.
The joy was short-lived.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson thought so little of the second half that he wrote a simple postgame phrase on the whiteboard in the locker room: “15? Not like that.”
It was a reference to the Lakers’ needing 15 more victories to win the franchise’s 15th NBA championship.
“I don’t even know if we can say we prevailed on that second-half effort, but we got the win,” Jackson said to reporters. “It wasn’t a coach’s delight, that’s for sure, but we were able to outscore them.”
The game started so well for a team that didn’t finish so well in last season’s playoffs.
Trevor Ariza was flammable in the first quarter and Bryant followed up some successful shots with confident looks toward rapper Kanye West, seated in a courtside chair.
It looked like the beginning of a Lakers playoff party, a 62-40 halftime edge as the home team shot 65.7%.
But the second half was controlled by Utah, which never came closer than nine points but dictated a slow, foul-filled pace that kept the Lakers in check, perhaps a preview of Game 2 Tuesday at Staples Center.
Bryant, who had 24 points and eight assists, was optimistic at first -- “It was a good game,” he said -- but became more critical as a postgame session with reporters progressed.
The Lakers’ defense lagged in the second half and the Jazz earned 28 free throws, a concept that Bryant captured by saying the game “became a muck.”
“Any time you get to the line it stops the momentum. It doesn’t enable us to get out in transition, get momentum and build up on the lead,” he said. “It’s a stop-and-go game, and that’s exactly the style of basketball that they play.”
Jackson didn’t like that the Jazz took 20 offensive rebounds and the Lakers only seven.
Along those lines, Andrew Bynum wasn’t great in his first playoff start, finishing with seven points, three rebounds and five fouls in 20 minutes.
“I don’t know what the heck I was doing out there,” he said, shaking his head. “I had a whole bunch of crazy fouls, just touching people. I’ve got to look at it on tape.”
Despite the Lakers’ lackluster second half, there were plenty of grim stats for the Jazz to digest beyond Ariza’s 21 points and the Lakers’ 9-0 edge in blocked shots.
Jackson is 47-1 in playoff series when his teams hold a series lead of any kind, the lone blemish coming three seasons ago when the Lakers lost a 3-1 advantage against Phoenix.
Utah again showed it couldn’t win on the road, falling to 2-19 this season against teams that made the playoffs.
Deron Williams had 16 points and 17 assists, and Carlos Boozer scored 27 points, but backup forward Paul Millsap (15 points) was the only other Jazz player to score in double figures.
Utah definitely missed starting center Mehmet Okur, sidelined because of a strained hamstring. There is no timetable for his return.
“We kind of looked like deer in the headlights to start off with,” Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan said. “I was really shocked that we would play that way, but some of our guys are young guys and hopefully they will learn.”
It was only a so-so day for fans in attendance as well. When they entered, they were handed gold-colored T-shirts that said “The Journey Begins” on the front and showed the championship trophy on the back, along with the phrase “The Destination.”
But they wouldn’t get a coupon at the end for two free tacos because Williams scored with 14.5 seconds left to put the Jazz at 100 points, killing a fast-food promotion.
Jackson shook up tradition before the game even began. He typically puts on his most recent championship ring whenever the playoffs start, though he refused to wear the one from the Lakers’ 2002 title run.
“I was tired of wearing that ring. I’ve been wearing it for seven years now,” he said. “It kind of looks like a clown’s face a little bit when you actually look at it. It’s got three triangles on it that are placed like a nose and two eyes.”
Apparently, the Lakers’ second-half effort Sunday wasn’t the only thing that irritated Jackson.
Redemption, a season-long theme for the Lakers after their humiliating exit in Boston last June, will have to wait a while, assuming it comes at all.