LOS ANGELES &
Just when it appeared the Los Angeles Lakers needed Kobe Bryant the most, he provided the least.
The strategy, planned or otherwise, worked to perfection.
Bryant scored 26 points despite not attempting a field goal in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers extended the stunning home success by NBA teams in the second round of the playoffs by beating the Utah Jazz 111-104 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Lakers, who never trailed, can advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2004 with a victory Friday night in Utah. But if form prevails, the teams will be playing a seventh and deciding game Monday night at Staples Center, where Los Angeles has a 17-3 record against the Jazz since the arena opened before the 1999-2000 season.
Home teams have won 19 of the 20 games played in the second round. The Lakers are the top-seeded team in the Western Conference, meaning they have home-court advantage through the first three rounds of the postseason.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson fell short of calling Game 5 a must-win for his team beforehand, but added: "We held serve (in the first two games), they held serve (in the second two), now it's time for us to hold serve. That's what this is all about."
The Lakers held serve by outscoring the Jazz 8-2 in the final minute.
Bryant tweaked his back in the opening minutes of Sunday's 123-115 overtime loss at Utah that tied the series. Sore back and all, he had 33 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists while playing 46 minutes.
The MVP didn't practice Monday or Tuesday, resting and receiving treatment. Clearly, it never occurred to him that he might be seriously hindered in Game 5, much less not play.
Bryant, who also had six rebounds and seven assists, scored only three points in the final period, all from the foul line after the outcome had been decided.
He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and 13-of-17 from the foul line.
"I just had to pick my spots," he said. "I knew I wasn't 100 percent healthy, so I wanted to get us off to a good start, give us an emotional boost. Then in the third quarter, there were moments where I had to pick it up, and I was able to do that. And in the fourth quarter, Lamar (Odom) and Pau (Gasol) took it from there."
Said Jackson: "It was just read how you feel, play the game the way it has to be played. He really saw the game from a perspective of how we could win the game and how he could do his best through the team."
Odom had 22 points and 11 rebounds, Gasol added 21 points, six rebounds and eight assists, Vladimir Radmanovic scored 15 points and Derek Fisher added 14 for the Lakers, who were 17-1 during the regular season when all five starters scored in double figures.
"Kobe is so good offensively that you have to expect to catch the ball in places where you can really be aggressive," said Odom, who had seven points in the final period, when the Lakers outscored the Jazz 30-23. "The whole team leans toward him. When he's passing and looking for all of us, he makes us really hard to guard."
All five Utah starters also scored in double figures led by Deron Williams, who had 27 points and 10 assists. Carlos Boozer added 18 points and 12 rebounds, Ronnie Brewer scored a career playoff-high 16 points, Mehmet Okur had 13 points and 13 rebounds, and Andrei Kirilenko scored 12 for the Jazz.
A three-point play by Odom with 6:19 remaining gave the Lakers a 97-91 lead. But the Jazz battled back, and a 3-pointer by Williams as the shot clock wound down moved the Jazz within one point with 2:18 left.
That would be as close as the Jazz would get.
A dunk by Odom put the Lakers ahead by three points before Okur's basket made it 103-102. Gasol scored the game's next four points to put the game away.
"We got the basketball inside, we had some opportunities, missed shot shots we'd like to have back, but that's the way it goes," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "We never could get over the hump and put pressure on them."
The Jazz, who trailed by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, outscored the Lakers 15-8 to start the second half, tying the game at 69. Bryant scored 10 points in the quarter, including his team's final six, but the game was tied 81-all entering the final period.
The game was tied for a fourth and final time early in the fourth quarter before the Lakers went ahead for good on a foul shot by Luke Walton &
his only point of the game &
with 9:54 to play.
After a scoreless first quarter, Gasol shot 6-for-9 and scored 15 points in the second period, helping the Lakers outscore the Jazz 32-28 for a 61-54 halftime lead. Utah trailed by only seven points despite committing 15 turnovers in the opening 24 minutes.
"I don't think Kobe was the one who killed us tonight," said Utah's Matt Harpring. "I think it was the rest of their team, and Kobe did a good job passing the ball. Down the stretch, we had our chances to win it, we missed some shots and they got some hustle plays and you can't let that happen if you want to win the game."
Bryant showed right away his back wasn't going to be a major problem, firing in a 3-pointer and another jumper in the opening 50 seconds to give the Lakers a quick 5-0 lead. The Jazz made their first four shots &
all by Brewer &
but trailed 15-8 thanks to five turnovers.
Radmanovic, who averaged 5.5 points in the first four games of the series, made consecutive 3-pointers to give him 10 points and the Lakers a 25-16 lead before the Jazz trimmed the deficit to 29-26 entering the second quarter.
The Lakers have won seven straight home games over Utah. ... The Lakers have won 18 of their last 21 home games in the postseason, while the Jazz have lost seven of their last nine road playoff games, including four in a row. ... The Lakers are 36-6 when winning Game 5 of a best-of-seven series and 13-17 when losing Game 5. ... Lakers G Jordan Farmar shot 2-for-5 and scored six points, including a three-point play with 8:38 remaining that gave the Lakers a 90-86 lead. The 21-year-old former UCLA star shot 1-for-16 and scored four points in the previous four games of this series. ... Utah and Boston were the only NBA teams to beat every other team at least once during the regular season.
Bryant scores 26 as Lakers beat Jazz in Game 5
LOS ANGELES &