After a bitter loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, the 2008-09 season was about redemption for the Los Angeles Lakers. With Pau Gasol now in his first full year with the organization and a determined Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson put the pieces of the puzzle together towards their playoff run.
Los Angeles entered the playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, earning the mark behind a 65-17 record during the regular season. With home-court locked up, the Lakers prepared for a Game 1 matchup against the Utah Jazz.
The series featured two of the more respected coaches in NBA history, with Jackson going up against Jerry Sloan. The crowd of 18,997 packed Staples Center, in anticipation of the playoff opener.
The Lakers started out Game 1 with their usual lineup of Derek Fisher, Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. This group was an imposing defensive unit, featuring two seven-footers, a pesky Fisher, and an elite wing defender in Ariza.
Ariza stepped up his presence on countless occasions throughout the season, taking on the task of stopping the opposing team’s best outside threat, while running the wings for his scoring opportunities. With the increased pressure and expectations of the playoffs, the Lakers came out firing and imposed their will against the flat-footed Jazz.
After an opening bucket courtesy of Gasol, Ariza knocked down back-to-back threes out on the wing to get the Lakers going. Los Angeles slowly created separation from there on out, ending the first quarter by outscoring the Jazz 22-13.
Lamar Odom then provided a spark at the beginning of the second quarter, scoring eight of the first 10 points. The Jazz had problems orchestrating their offense, while trying to limit the offensive surge from the Lakers, as they entered halftime trailing 62-40.
Although facing the large deficit, the Jazz did make multiple attempts to get back into the contest. They began the second half on an 8-0 run, guided by leading scorer Carlos Boozer, who totaled 27 points in 39 minutes of action.
At the end of the third quarter, the Lakers held on to an 86-73 lead. With 12 minutes remaining, the Jazz put together two runs that brought that the lead to within single digits, but Gasol (eight points) and Bryant (seven) fought them off in the fourth.
The Lakers stamped a 113-100 Game 1 victory in a series that would finish in five games. Gasol was the interior presence the Lakers needed to help space the floor early on, finishing with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting, while also collecting nine rebounds, two steals and four blocks.
Ariza had 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting, along with four rebounds and two assists. His stellar versatility turned into a driving force for the Lakers on the way to the NBA championship, including later matchups against Metta World Peace, Carmelo Anthony, and Hedo Turkoglu.