Kobe Bryant accepted his Most Valuable Player trophy on Wednesday, then poured in 34 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 120-110 victory over Utah in the NBA playoffs.
Lamar Odom added 19 and 16 rebounds as the Lakers took a 2-0 lead over the Jazz in their best-of-seven Western Conference second-round series.
The Lakers remained unbeaten this post-season as they look ahead to Game 3 in Salt Lake City on today.
Before tip-off, NBA commissioner David Stern presented Bryant with the first MVP trophy of his 12-year career.
“I’m at a loss for words, I don’t know what to say,” Bryant told the crowd. “I love you guys so much. We’re going to play until June. Let’s get this party started.”
Bryant, who was booed by fans at the Lakers home opener back in October after a contentious offseason, celebrated his and the team’s turnaround with a sparkling performance that also included eight rebounds and six assists.
Derek Fisher scored 22 points and Lamar Odom contributed 19 and 16 rebounds for Los Angeles, who shot 57 percent (39-of-68) from the field.
Fisher, who played for last year’s Jazz team that advanced to the conference finals, made a key three-pointer from the top of the key to push the Lakers’ advantage to 104-94 with 4 minutes, 55 seconds to play — after the Jazz had crept within six points minutes earlier.
After a three-point play by the Jazz, Bryant sliced through the lane and found Pau Gasol underneath for a dunk that resulted in a 10-point lead with 2 minutes, 40 seconds remaining.
Bryant sealed the game with a pair of free throws to keep the margin at double figures with just under a minute left.
“We were playing against a backcourt that has 18 to 20 years experience,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said of Bryant and Fisher.
The Jazz, who out-rebounded the Lakers by 17 in the opening game, won the rebounding battle by just a 41-37 margin.
Deron Williams had 25 points and 10 assists and Paul Millsap scored 17 off the bench for Utah, who had seven players score in double figures but never looked like getting over the hump.
“We never really had that point where we felt threatened in this ballgame,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “We felt like the offense was going well, we were doing the things we wanted to do.”
The Lakers, who swept Denver in four games in the first round, now travel to Utah, where the Jazz had a league-best home record during the regular season of 37-4. One of those four defeats was to the Lakers.
The Jazz will be hoping a return home will signal a change of fortune for Carlos Boozer, who was in foul trouble early and finished with 10 points — all in the second half.
“I have to figure out a way to play my game without getting fouls,” Boozer said.