- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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SALT LAKE CITY -- We've seen the Lakers win with their length time and time again, but from long range? Not these guys.
Lately, the Lakers have been about as accurate from downtown as the computer trade that led to the Wall Street crash this past week because it was in the billions range instead of the millions range.
But in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, there they were, silencing one of the most hostile arenas in the league by bombing away from downtown. The Lakers made 9 of 16 (56.3 percent) of their 3-pointers in the second half and 13 of 29 (44.8 percent) in the game to hold on for a 111-110 win and take a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Jazz.
Coming into the game, the Lakers had been shooting just 31.1 percent on 3-pointers in the postseason, and Los Angeles' only two playoff losses have come in Games 3 and 4 of the first round in Oklahoma City, where the team shot a combined 14-for-53 (26.4 percent) from deep.
After those losses the Lakers swore off triples the way Kelly Osbourne swore off candy bars, but on Saturday they feasted away from deep.
Except these 3s were good for them.
"They were different looks," Kobe Bryant said after going 3-for-7 on 3-pointers en route to scoring 35 points. "In Oklahoma in those games, we had a lot of 'settle' 3s [with] the shot clock going down and things like that. Those are tougher shots. The 3s we got tonight were 3s with your feet set, ball movement, good spacing; they were completely different looks. Similar amount, but different looks entirely."
The Jazz completely neutralized things down low, sagging off the wings to try to bottle up Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the paint. Their initial plan worked. Gasol was held to just 14 points and Bynum was held scoreless when the duo had been averaging a combined 36 points per game in Games 1 and 2.
The Jazz also controlled the boards for the first time all series, but Utah picked the wrong poison. The Lakers lived by the 3 instead of dying by it.
"We felt like that was the chance to stay in the ballgame," said Utah's venerable coach, Jerry Sloan. "That right there probably got us."
The outside barrage was led by none other than Ron Artest, who needed just seven attempts to make four 3s after needing 42 attempts to make seven 3s in his first eight games of the playoffs.
Artest was so pleased with his performance, which brought a climactic ending to his Twitter feud with Lakers coach Phil Jackson, that he even talked a little trash in his postgame news conference.
"I was so happy that Coach Sloan had that defensive strategy to play off me," Artest said. "It got me going a little bit. Now we can play basketball the right way. No more gimmick defense."
Said Jackson: "Before the game I said, 'We know he can make them.' Three-point shooters run hot-and-cold. Tonight he was pretty hot."
The Lakers' 3-point shooting had taken a hit in recent seasons with the departures of the sure strokes of Vladimir Radmanovic and Trevor Ariza. It also hasn't helped that 3-point threat Sasha Vujacic has been sidelined with a sprained left ankle this postseason.
But the Lakers moved the ball crisply and decisively in Game 3, opening the outside for not just Bryant and Artest but also Derek Fisher (3-for-7), Jordan Farmar (1-for-2), Lamar Odom (1-for-3) and Shannon Brown (1-for-3).
"They baited us into taking it," said Odom, whose 3 came from his most effective spot beyond the arc on the left wing, proving Bryant's point about the looks being better. "We got guys that can make them."
As much as it was a breakout game for the Lakers' gunners, success from deep can be fleeting.
"Am I always a fan of just shooting the 3?" Jackson asked after the game. "A lot of times I think penetration is the best thing, but we were able to hit a relatively good percentage of them tonight, and that was in our favor."
But in a one-point game, if just one of those 13 3-pointers that went in had happened to rim out, we would be talking about shot selection again. If those misses hadn't been soft and had led to long rebounds, we would be talking about the Jazz taking defensive boards and turning them into transition opportunities again.
The Lakers are 0-3 all time in the playoffs when they attempt 30 or more 3-pointers. They attempted 29 on Saturday.
"Today we made some; next game we may not," Brown said. "Who knows?"
It is one thing to be flexible and take what the defense gives you in any given game, but it's another thing entirely to accept your opponent's game plan rather than dissect it.
As the Lakers became 3-happy, they allowed the Jazz to do the same. Utah almost matched the Lakers make for make, finishing 10-for-22 on 3-pointers, a better percentage than L.A.'s.
"It was fun basketball to watch, I'm sure," Bryant said. "Guys coming down hitting big shot after big shot and making big play after big play."
Artest, of all people, recognized the danger in that.
"I don't like going back and forth," Artest said. "I have to pay attention more the next game. I guess it was fun for the fans like Kobe said, but we don't like to make it fun for the fans."
He's right. Layups are pretty mundane. Defense wins championships. The Lakers' 3-point formula worked in Game 3, but it's time for them to return to their true strength inside.
The Lakers became surprisingly proficient from the 3-point line in Game 3.