Kobe Bryant delivered another masterclass to guide the Los Angeles Lakers to a 109-98 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal on Sunday.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (center) puts up a shot as Utah Jazz forward Carlos Boozer (right) guards during the first half of Game 1 of their second round NBA playoff series in Los Angeles on Sunday. The Lakers won 109-98.
The standout player at a capacity Staples Center in Los Angeles, Bryant scored 38 points as the Lakers overcame a spirited second-half fightback by the Jazz to grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Urged on by repeated crowd chants of "MVP, MVP", Bryant also contributed seven assists and six rebounds while Spaniard Pau Gasol scored 18 points and forward Lamar Odom 16.
Although Utah center Mehmet Okur, with 21 points, and forward Carlos Boozer, with 15, helped the visitors close to within four points with 4.31 remaining, the Lakers held on for victory.
"We just took our time," All Star guard Bryant told reporters after his team had rallied after surrendering a commanding 19-point lead late in the first half.
"We knew they were going to make a run. The important thing for us was to remain poised and try to execute as best we could."
The Jazz, 4-2 winners over the Houston Rockets in the opening round of the playoffs, outscored the Lakers 58-41 in rebounds.
"They are really aggressive and we haven't seen that too often," Bryant added. "We just have to do a better job in the second game and be more physical in getting those rebounds."