LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – The Los Angeles Lakers relied on trouble-shooter Kobe Bryant to arrest another late-game lapse and extend their Western Conference semi-final lead to 2-0 with a 111-103 victory over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.
In the East, the Orlando Magic recorded their second largest playoff win with a 114-71 demolition of the Atlanta Hawks in their series opener.
The Lakers, who faltered in Game One before closing out a gritty 104-99 win, were again caught out by the rallying Jazz before Bryant moved into damage control mode, scoring nine of his game-high 30 points in the last five minutes.
“It’s my responsibility when things get tight to make plays,” Bryant told reporters. “We’re an experienced team and we know (we have to win at home). It happened to us last year (where we lost). We try to learn from that.”
Los Angeles charged out of the blocks and took a 12-point lead at half-time with Bryant setting up team mates and racking up eight assists.
However, the NBA champions let a second-half 14-point lead slip to just four with 5:01 remaining, before Bryant steadied the ship with three free throws as the team exploited their size advantage with big rebounds down the stretch.
The Lakers finished with a 58-40 edge on the boards and their two seven-footers shined. Pau Gasol contributed 22 points and 15 rebounds and Andrew Bynum 17 and 14.
Paul Millsap came off the bench to lead the dogged Jazz with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Carlos Boozer added 20 and 12 rebounds while C.J. Miles chipped in 20.
Utah were again hampered by the absence of forward Andrei Kirilenko, who has missed the post season with a calf injury.
In Orlando, Dwight Howard dominated with 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, while Vince Carter added 20 as the Magic made short work of the Hawks.
Orlando led by 20 at half-time and then outscored the Hawks 32-11 to bury them in the third.