Korver, Artest battle on perimeter
The Jazz guard has a career night, yet can't lift his team over the surging Lakers
SALT LAKE CITY -- As Kyle Korver sat in front of his locker, the last Utah Jazz player to take off his jersey in the team's deserted dressing room following a 111-110 loss to the Lakers, he took a deep breath and shook his head midway through a question about his performance.
It was the frustrated look of a player who had played one of the best games of his career and had nothing but another loss to show for it. He came off the bench for the Jazz and scored a career-playoff-high 23 points in about 23 minutes, hitting all five of his 3-point attempts and 9-of-10 shots from the field, connecting on his first eight.
Maybe his teammates have more to offer in Game 4 to prevent Utah from being swept, but this was as good as it got for Korver and he felt as bad as he ever has after a game.
The difference was that loss was an elimination game, but from the looks of Korver and many of his teammates in Utah's locker room, so was Game 3.
If there was any chance Utah was going to turn this series around, this was going to be it. Despite all the talk about the size disadvantage and talent disparity between the Lakers and Jazz, Utah lost the first two games in Los Angeles by an average of 6.5 points. They knew they weren't that far away from beating the Lakers, but after Saturday's heartbreaker where the Lakers came back from a 13-point deficit and finished off Utah with back-to-back 3-pointers from Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, they knew they had let their chance slip away.
"I thought tonight was the best all-around game we played," Korver said. "In the first two games we had a bad half or a bad quarter and had to fight back, but tonight we played pretty solid and we obviously had our chances in the end. We haven't been given much of a shot the entire series but that's especially the case now."
The see-saw fourth quarter turned out to be a surprising perimeter dual between Korver and Ron Artest, which no one could have predicted considering Korver was 0-for-2 in the first two games in Los Angeles and Artest was 7-for-42 from beyond the arc in the playoffs. The two players combined for 20 points in the fourth quarter and hit 9-of-12 3-pointers in the game.
"I don't like going back and forth," Artest said. "I'll pay more attention the next game. I'm sure it was fun for the fans but we don't like to make it for the fans."
Artest and Korver were able to have fun during the game basically because neither defense expected either player to make much of an impact. In fact, the Jazz wanted Artest to shoot from the outside so much they basically pretended as if he were invisible once he wandered past the arc.
"We switched up the game plan tonight and tried to show more from our perimeter players than from our bigs like we did in the first couple games," Korver said. "They had some guys who hadn't shot the ball too well and we tried to make them shoot, and give them credit: They knocked down shots and played a really good game."
The defensive game plan didn't go unnoticed by Artest, who made it a point to shoot the ball every time the Jazz essentially dared him to by refusing to send a player to guard him.
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Artest can call it a gimmick but Sloan doesn't have many more tricks left in his bag after Game 3 and certainly none Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who has eliminated Sloan's Jazz from the postseason four previous times, hasn't seen before. When he was asked how much the three days off in between Games 2 and 3 helped his team, Sloan shrugged his shoulders and said, "We didn't get any taller. I thought we'd get them stretched out a little bit more."
The Jazz got back 6-9 forward Andrei Kirlilenko, who returned from more than a month out with a strained left calf and had eight points and six rebounds. The Jazz also did a better job against the Lakers' front-court trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, who combined for 50 points, 44 rebounds and nine blocked shots in Game 2. On Saturday the triumvirate was held to 22 points, 29 rebounds and three blocks as Bynum was a non-factor, finishing with no points on one attempt.
"We did a good job on their big guys tonight," said Kirilenko. "Bynum didn't score and Gasol, who is one of the smartest players I've ever seen, struggled to get 14 points, and we didn't let Odom do much. But Kobe is Kobe and it's hard to stop him."
It's been the unenviable job of undrafted rookie guard Wesley Matthews to stop Bryant during the series, and after Game 3 he sat in front of his locker and asked his teammate Sundiata Gaines, seated to his left, how many shots Bryant took and how many shots he hit before he slapped his hands and took a look at the final stat sheet for himself.
"I don't want it to be over," Matthews said. "I'm not ready for this to end. We just got to fight like dogs."
Kirlilenko said he was up for the challenge and was the first Jazz player to crack a smile in the locker room as he looked at his teammates before walking out.
"I guess no one has ever come back from three games down before," he said. "So let's make history."
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com