Kobe Bryant scored 38 points, added seven assists and grabbed six rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 109-98 win over the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
Pau Gasol finished with 18 points and 10 boards for the top-seeded Lakers, who will also host Game 2 of this best-of-seven set, scheduled for Tuesday.
Lamar Odom contributed 16 points and nine rebounds, while Sasha Vujacic added 15 points off the bench for Los Angeles, which won three of the four meetings between the clubs during the regular season.
"We're on the same page mentally as a team," Odom said. "You're not going to be given a game this time of year. We have to take the game, and that's what we did tonight."
Mehmet Okur had 21 points and 19 rebounds for Utah, which shot 37.9 percent overall and 21.1 percent (4-of-19) from three-point range. Carlos Boozer had 15 points and 14 boards before fouling out, while Deron Williams added 14 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
The Jazz trailed 81-72 after a Ronny Turiaf dunk opened the fourth quarter, and their deficit hovered around there for most of the stanza. A Vujacic jumper put Los Angeles' lead at 91-82 with 5:28 left, but two quick shots -- a three from Kyle Korver and a Ronnie Brewer layup -- got Utah right back in the game.
But Odom followed with a layup to boost the Laker edge to 93-87, and the Jazz couldn't generate much offense, relying on free throws for points as they missed their next nine field goals.
Still, Utah got within five when Williams made one of two free throws with 2:39 remaining, putting the score at 94-89. But Gasol, who scored eight of his points in the final two minutes, followed a missed Bryant layup with a tip-in, and the Jazz didn't get within six the rest of the way.
Korver ended a back-and-forth first quarter with a jumper to draw Utah within 25-24. But the Lakers dominated the beginning of the second stanza, and went on a 16-4 run over the first six minutes.
Vujacic powered the early part of the run with a three-point play followed by a pair of three-pointers, and Bryant followed with another three-point play and a layup. Gasol capped the surge with a dunk to push LA's lead to 41-28 midway through.
"I think we've got to do a better job on rotation on (Bryant). We've got to at least double him," Okur said. "Once he gets out, it's hard to stop him because he's such a great player. So hopefully we're going to do a better job on him the next game."
The Lakers maintained their double-digit advantage, and went into halftime with a 54-41 lead.
The game turned into a basket-trading affair through the first three minutes of the second half, but LA used a short, seven-point burst to momentarily stretch its lead to 19. Odom capped it with a pair of free throws for a 68-49 lead, but Utah countered with a run of its own.
Boozer had two baskets in the nine-point run, including the layup that ended it, and cut the Jazz deficit to 68-58 with a shade under five minutes left.
"I'm kind of happy with the way we battled back. But again, we need to make shots," Utah's Andrei Kirilenko said. "You can't win a game when you don't make shots."
Utah continued to chip away at the lead, and a Williams three nearly at the buzzer slashed the LA lead to seven, at 79-72, heading into the fourth.
These teams have met on three previous occasions in the postseason. Utah knocked out the Lakers in five games in the 1997 semifinals and swept LA in the 1998 conference finals. Los Angeles defeated the Jazz in seven games in the 1988 West semis...The Lakers shot 45.2 percent from the floor and made 5- of-10 shots from behind the arc...Korver, Brewer and Kirilenko each had 11 points for the Jazz, while Kirilenko blasted five shots...Vladimir Radmanovic had 10 points for LA...Utah out-rebounded the Lakers, 58-41.