SALT LAKE CITY, February 12 – Kobe Bryant nearly brought the Los Angles Lakers all the way back on Wednesday, but his US Oympic teammate Deron Williams and the Utah Jazz had other ideas.
Williams scored 31 points with 11 assists and set up two game-changing scoring plays in the last 90 seconds to lead the Jazz to a 113-109 win over the Lakers, the top team in the National Basketball Association’s Western Conference.
The Jazz led for much of the fourth quarter, but missed 6-of-8 free throws in a span of 3:35.
That set the stage for the Lakers to rally, with Bryant sinking a three-pointer over CJ Miles with 1:36 left to put Los Angeles ahead 105-104.
But even with all the Lakers focused on him, point guard Williams was able to make things happen at the other end.
He found Paul Millsap cutting to the basket for a dunk that the third-year forward converted into a three-point play.
After Bryant tied things up with a layup, Williams found Mehmet Okur on the perimeter for a go-ahead three-pointer that further inflamed the raucous Salt Lake City crowd.
With less than 10 seconds to play, the Lakers had two chances to knot the score, but but Derek Fisher missed two attempts from long range as the Jazz escaped.
The Lakers saw a seven-game winning streak end, but it was touch and go for either team throughout
Much of the night was a battle between Bryant and Williams, who were teammates on the gold medal-winning US Olympic team in Beijing and spent some time guarding each other in this one.
"He’s better than I thought he was, which is saying a lot," Bryant said of Williams. "He’s one of the best in the world. Playing with him, you get a chance to see how great he really is."
Williams posted his fifth straight game with 30 or more points, going 12-of-17 from the floor. Okur added 22 points and eight rebounds.
With the win, the Jazz get the morale-boosting benefit of going into the All-Star break as a playoff team.
Coupled with Phoenix’s loss, the Jazz now have the eighth spot in the West to themselves, 1 1/2 games behind seventh-place New Orleans.
No Jazz players were selected to participate in All-Star weekend, so they have a chance to get back to a semblance of full health before play resumes next week.
Injured forwards Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko, both still recovering from surgery, expect to be back on the court soon after the break.
Bryant led the Lakers with 37 points while Odom, making his sixth straight start in place of injured Andrew Bynum, added 19 with 19 rebounds.