According to the Associated Press, Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko says there’s a “50-50 chance” he’ll be able to play in games two and three of Utah’s series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
When healthy, Kirilenko is one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA. With his outstanding athleticism and wingspan, Kirilenko is capable of matching up with any offensive player on the ball, and he’s a great help-side defender as well. Carlos Boozer is a great offensive player and rebounder, but he’s not the kind of defender that Kirilenko is.
On NBA Playbook, Sebastian Pruiti has some screenshots illustrating how Boozer’s poor help defense on Kobe Bryant made it easier for Kobe to hit some crucial baskets down the stretch. If Kirilenko was in the game instead of Boozer, Milsap, or even C.J. Miles, there’s a distinct possibility he could have made life tougher for Kobe down the stretch of game one. (To be fair, there’s also a distinct possibility Kobe would have made the shots anyways. He’s good.)
Bryant looked human for long stretches against the Thunder in round one. Age and injury may have played a part in that, but remember that the Thunder had a lot of defenders with quick feet and the length necessary to bother Bryant on the perimeter. C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews aren’t as good defensively as Sefolosha and Durant are, and Utah’s two best big men are undersized power forwards who aren’t known for their help defense.
Kirilenko might not be the defensive answer for Utah, but he gives them a better chance of slowing Bryant down than anyone currently suiting up for the Jazz does. Kirilenko or no Kirilenko, Jerry Sloan is going to have to find some way to make life tougher on Kobe if he doesn’t want to lose yet another series to a Phil Jackson team.