The Los Angeles Lakers withstood a late rally by the Utah Jazz on Friday, posting a 108-105 victory to advance to the Western Conference finals of the NBA playoffs.
Kobe Bryant, the league's Most Valuable Player, scored 34 points, leading six Lakers players in double figures as Los Angeles completed a 4-2 triumph in the best-of-seven second-round series.
To do it, the Lakers had to become the first team in the series to win on the road — against a Jazz team that had the best home record in the regular season.
It was the Lakers’ first playoff victory at Utah since 1988 and sent them to their first Western Conference finals since 2004.
The Lakers now await the winner of the other Western Conference series between the defending champions San Antonio Spurs and the New Orleans Hornets.
“We have home court advantage on either team, I think that’s a big factor,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Pau Gasol added 17 points and 13 rebounds for Los Angeles, who started strong and appeared headed for a rout, but ended up holding off the Jazz in a nail-biting finish.
Deron Williams scored 21 points for the Jazz, who buried five three-pointers in the final 2 minutes, 30 seconds to get within 105-103.
Two of those three-pointers came 12 seconds apart from Andrei Kirilenko, a one-time All-Star not known for his perimeter shooting.
Ahead by two with 16 seconds to play, the Lakers gave the Jazz a last gasp chance when Derek Fisher missed a free throw to give Utah possession and a chance to force overtime.
The Jazz missed twice, including an attempt by Williams that rattled in and out of the hoop just before time expired.
“I had confidence that we would make the right play at the end,” Jackson said. “They made some incredible shots, obviously five three-pointers down the stretch is pretty remarkable in itself.”
The Lakers signaled early that they were not interested in waiting for a game seven at home to wrap up the series, seizing the lead at the start and never giving it up.
By the five-minute mark of the first period they had a double-digit advantage, a contrast to the first two games in Salt Lake City, both of which the Jazz led for most of the way.
Fisher rounded off the lopsided first half with three free throws on a controversial call at the buzzer. He made all three to give the Lakers a 62-43 halftime lead.
The Jazz, one of the most efficient offensive clubs in the league throughout the season, shot just 33 percent from the field in the first half.
The frontcourt tandem of Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur was ineffective, despite strong rebounding.
Boozer was repeatedly double-teamed by the Lakers’ quicker big men, frustrating the three-time All-Star who led the Jazz in scoring this season, but has struggled offensively in the post-season. He fouled out in the fourth quarter, finishing with only 12 points.
Okur was just one-for-seven from the field in the first half and it was well into the fourth quarter before the Jazz made any headway.
With Boozer taking up the attention of the Lakers’ interior defense, Williams found reserve Paul Millsap instead. Millsap, a second-year forward, scored eight straight points to spark a Utah comeback.