Los Angeles Lakers: “Never Underestimate The Heart Of a Champion”

Even after the Los Angeles Lakers seized all the momentum by holding their home court and taking a 2-0 series lead against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals, Game Three had all the makings of an L.A. letdown.

For one thing, EnergySolutions Arena (home of the Jazz) is arguably the most hostile environment of all the venues that house the remaining playoff teams (the Lakers and Staples Center, the Suns and US Airways Center, the Celtics and TD BankNorth Garden, the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena, the Magic and Amway Arena and the Hawks and Philips Arena—for all you who suffer from short-term memory loss).

To add stale popcorn to a mundane movie, the Lakers had yet to truly pull out the urgency card during this postseason. Considering Game Three was as close to a must-win for Utah as Wesley Matthews' eventual tip attempt with under a second left, I would have been no less surprised if L.A. had a 2-1 series lead heading into Game Four than I was to hear that BP's stocks were rapidly sold leading up to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

As expected, the Jazz jumped out to a strong start, holding the Lakers to just 17 first-quarter points on 29 percent shooting, including 1-of-6 from downtown. Still, the Purple and Gold plowed its way through a first-frame fog and trailed by only five points through 12 minutes.

In the second stanza, Utah unveiled its largest lead of the game (13), a point at which the Lakers were all but forced to look themselves in the mirror and ask, "Flight or fight?" Apparently L.A. had done enough flying on its way to Salt Lake City, because by first half's end, the Lakers were behind by a mere four points despite zero field goal attempts and points from Andrew Bynum, and just four points on 1-of-4 shooting by Pau Gasol -- all of which were compiled in the first frame.

Come the third period, the two teams really buckled down, exchanging body blows and jaw breakers that ...

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