It was clearly a shock to the Jazz’s system.
They came from facing a Denver defense where the players’ main goal is to get back on offense, there is no discipline in the system, nobody really breaking up the passing lanes on Jazz cuts. There were a lot of easy baskets.
Then they have to face the Lakers, with their long arms and commitment to making easy passes hard, to protecting the rim. The Jazz were tentative early, unsure how to deal with the length of the Lakers, which makes things like simple post entry passes hard (the Jazz turned the ball over 27 percent of the time they went into the post in game one).
Then when they did get inside, the Lakers bothered their shots. Utah got 47 percent of its shots at the rim, scoring 44 points there on just 55 percent shooting. For comparison, Los Angeles got 39 percent of their shots at the rim, but scored 48 points there on 80 percent shooting.
In the second half, the Jazz did a better job executing their offense — they got nine shot attempts off on their beloved cuts and inside passes in the game, but seven of those game in the second half. The Jazz shot 5 of 8 on those with no turnovers.
The Jazz started to execute better, they started to adjust to the Lakers length. They made a comeback and even took the lead based on their balanced scoring (five guys in double figures).
They have reason for hope heading into game two.
But hope is a ways from a win. There are things the Jazz have to do, primarily on defense. One is slow Kobe Bryant, who took over late and spoiled the comeback (in part due to bad defense by Carlos Boozer, in part because he is Kobe and that’s what he does). The Jazz do not have a good individual matchup for him, and there is the fear that one game this series he could just go off and win it nearly single-handedly. The Jazz need to deny him the ball, throw different looks at him and just try to generally make life hard. Force Kobe to shoot long twos (problem is, last game Kobe was 4 of 5 from 16 to 23 feet, some nights you can’t win against him).
Utah is going to have to defend in the paint better. The Lakers cannot shoot 80 percent at the rim. And that means Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos are going to have to step up, they are going to have to be more physical. Take the fouls, but make the Lakers work for it. The Jazz cannot win this game or this series if the Lakers have unfettered control inside.
The Jazz need to get some easy baskets — in transition off the more aggressive defense, off crisp cuts in the offense and passes made without hesitation. Easier said than done (at least against the Lakers first unit, the bench is soft), but it can be done. The Jazz offense cannot be average if they are to win.
The Jazz have serious matchup problems in this series, but they are the one team with enough discipline to overcome them. The strategy is there, and the Jazz are the masters of execution.
That execution is going to have to be nearly flawless to get a win.