LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate his first MVP award.
He had 34 points, eight rebounds and six assists Wednesday night, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Utah Jazz 120-110 to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals and remain the NBA's only unbeaten team in the post-season. Bryant received his Most Valuable Player trophy from NBA commissioner David Stern in a brief ceremony before the game.
"I'm at a loss for words, I don't know what to say," Bryant said as the Staples Center crowd of 18,997 roared its approval and chanted M-V-P. "I love you guys so much. We're going to play until June. Let's get this party started."
The 29-year-old Bryant was a runaway winner, receiving 82 first-place votes and 1,100 points to far outdistance New Orleans' Chris Paul in the voting of 126 media members. The results were announced Tuesday.
Following the presentation, Bryant's wife and two young daughters gave him with a bouquet of flowers at centre court.
"It was an emotional night for all of us," Bryant said after the game. "We haven't seen Staples Center this electric. It gave me goose bumps. You want to ride the momentum, and we were able to do that."
The Lakers made their first six shots, and after falling behind 13-12, Bryant scored six points during a 13-0 run that put them ahead for good.
"We were never able to gather momentum in the second half, but we never really had that point where we felt threatened in this ballgame," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We felt that the offence was going well, we were doing things we wanted to do."
The series shifts to Utah for Games 3 and 4 on Friday night and Sunday. The Jazz had an NBA-best 37-4 home record this season, but one of the losses was by 11 points to the Lakers on March 20.
"No expectations, no disappointments," Jackson said regarding the games in Utah.
"We've got to control the tempo, we've got to control the pace. That's big in Utah," Bryant said. "We're a pretty good road team. We're really looking forward to it."
Derek Fisher, who played for Utah last season, added 22 points, Pau Gasol scored 20, and Lamar Odom had 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Lakers, who shot 57.4 per cent from the field and made 35 free throws - 22 more than the Jazz.
"We can't foul them," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "We've put them at the line 89 times (in two games). That's way too many. That was the difference in the game, free throws."
Seven Utah players scored in double figures led by Deron Williams, who had 25 points, including three three-pointers in the last 33 seconds, and 10 assists. Paul Millsap added a career playoff-high 17 points and 10 rebounds, Mehmet Okur had 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots, and Andrei Kirilenko scored 14 points. Okur and Kirilenko both fouled out in the final minute.
Carlos Boozer was held to 10 points - all in the second half. He played less than seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
"We feel like we've been in both games, we just haven't been able to get over the hump," Utah's Kyle Korver said.
The Jazz outrebounded the Lakers 58-41 in Game 1, but lost 109-98. They won the battle of the backboards again 41-37, but shot 44.6 per cent while attempting a season-high 101 shots - 33 more than Los Angeles.
"There's no need to panic, but they're definitely in control right now," said Williams, who scored three points in the first half. "We've got to protect our homecourt. These next two games are must-wins. If we're down 3-1, it's going tough to come back from."
The Jazz outscored the Lakers 11-4 to get within five points with just under six minutes to play. But a jumper by Sasha Vujacic, a three-pointer by Fisher and a free throw by Gasol extended the Lakers' lead to 105-94 with 4:26 left.
A three-point play by Kirilenko made it 107-99 before Bryant fed Gasol for a dunk with 2:40 to go, and the Jazz weren't closer than six points after that.
"It's a great day for us today," Odom said. "We just fed off the crowd."
The Jazz drew within nine points early in the third quarter before Bryant outscored them 9-4 by himself to make it 82-68. A three-pointer by Williams with 1.5 seconds left in the third quarter trimmed the Lakers' lead to 93-83.
The Lakers led 55-40 before Williams made a three-pointer for his only points of the first half. It was 63-49 at halftime, and it might have been worse for the Jazz had Millsap not scored 13 points - three more than his previous playoff high.
Notes: Only 13 of the 211 teams that lost the first two games in a best-of-seven NBA playoff series have overcome that deficit to advance. ... Teams coached by Jackson are 39-0 when winning the opener of a playoff series - 24-0 with the Chicago Bulls and 15-0 with the Lakers. ... Sloan is fourth on the all-time regular-season wins list with 1,089 victories and Jackson ranks sixth with 976. Jackson is the overall leader in the post-season with 185 wins while Sloan is sixth with 91. ... The Lakers have a 15-3 record at Staples Center against the Jazz since the arena opened before the 1999-2000 season.
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