LOS ANGELES — When Kobe Bryant meekly fumbled the ball away before the buzzer sounded, even Utah rookie Gordon Hayward seemed a bit stunned to realize he had just won a duel with the Los Angeles Lakers‘ superstar.
He’ll gladly take this memory from an otherwise forgettable season for the Jazz.
Hayward scored a career-high 22 points and hit the go-ahead free throw with 6 seconds to play, and Utah snapped an eight-game losing streak with an 86-85 victory over the sleepwalking Lakers on Tuesday night.
Hayward scored 14 points in the second half, showing a whole lot more poise than his former Butler teammates did in Monday’s NCAA title game. His dunk in traffic with 3:25 to play put the Jazz ahead for good.
Although Hayward missed one late free throw after Bryant fouled him, he made the other — and then he played just enough defense to keep Bryant from another dramatic finish.
“It was fun,” Hayward said. “You’re out there competing, especially against Kobe Bryant. He elbowed me early in the second half, and I gave him another elbow in the fourth quarter, so we were going at it and competing. I mean, you grew up watching Kobe do his thing, and now you’re out there as a competitor just trying to play as hard as you can against him.”
After going 9 for 14 with two 3-pointers, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block off the bench, Hayward even earned effusive praise from Bryant, who has been in countless big games against the Jazz over the past 15 years.
“I’m very, very fond of him,” Bryant said. “He’s a very skilled, all-around player. I think he’s going to have a very bright future in this league. He reminds me of a more talented Jeff Hornacek. Jeff couldn’t put the ball on the floor as well as [Hayward] can.”
Paul Millsap scored 22 points for the Jazz, who had a five-point lead with 90 seconds left before Bryant got the Lakers back in it with two 3-pointers. Although the Jazz would have to finish the season with four more victories to avoid just their second losing season in 28 years, they avoided their first nine-game losing streak since March 2005.
Earl Watson hit a big 3-pointer with 2:40 left, and rookie Derrick Favors had 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Jazz held on for their first road win over the Lakers since Jan. 1, 2006, a span of 17 games in the regular season and playoffs.
“It feels good to get that monkey off my back,” said Al Jefferson, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds. “The last game we played like we were trying to get the season over, but tonight we played like we had some heart. I give credit to the young guys. I think Derrick and Gordon came in and lifted us up.”
Bryant scored 20 points and hit a tying 3-pointer with 16 seconds left, but fumbled the ball away on a last-second move that was every bit as ill-conceived as the Lakers’ entire performance.
With a listless effort in their second straight loss following a 17-1 stretch, the Lakers might have lost the chance to catch San Antonio atop the Western Conference standings. The Spurs have a 3 1/2-game lead with five games left for Los Angeles.
“This was our worst game of the year,” said Lamar Odom, who had 11 points and eight rebounds. “We didn’t deserve to win, [but] we’ve had no problem bouncing back all year. We’ll be fine. Our energy was just bad all the way around. … You can’t dissect this game. Nothing is there.”
Pau Gasol scored 12 of his 19 points in the first quarter while playing through a bone bruise in his right knee for Los Angeles. Andrew Bynum had 12 points, a career-high 23 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Lakers, who missed their first 13 3-point attempts and made 19 turnovers — none more costly than Bryant’s bobble at the top of the key against Hayward’s defense with the game on the line.
“Obviously he’s the best at that, and I was hoping he could make it and get another win for us,” Gasol said. “It’s a setback, but we still should finish off these last games as hard as we can. You never know what could happen.”
The Lakers’ impressive nine-game winning streak ended Sunday with a loss to playoff-bound Denver in Los Angeles’ third game in less than four days. The Lakers didn’t have the excuse of exhaustion against the Jazz: They just didn’t appear interested until Bryant, who didn’t make a field goal in the first half, rallied them in the final minutes.
The Lakers had a season-low 57 points through three quarters, and the Jazz easily could have taken charge — but they also made head-shaking mistakes such as Millsap’s attempt to pass to an official in the fourth quarter.
Devin Harris missed the game for Utah with a strained right hamstring, and Kyrylo Fesenko also sat out with a sprained right thumb. The Ukrainian center made his first start of the season against the Lakers last Friday, earning Bryant’s ire when he flung the ball at the All-Star game MVP’s feet.
The Lakers split their season series with Utah after winning the past four series. … Bynum set his career high in rebounds midway through the third quarter, but he also missed eight of his first nine shots.
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