The clock was ticking down to the final seconds with the Lakers down by one. Kobe Bryant had the ball and was being guarded by Utah rookie Gordon Hayward. He was eyeing the rook like he was a starving man who just had a steak tossed on his plate. Kobe dribbled to set up his final shot, poised to make another highlight film game winner as time expired.
Then he inexplicably lost control of the ball, fumbling it away as the buzzer sounded.
That played allowed the Utah Jazz to eek out an 86-85 win over the blazing hot Lakers and also snapped an eight-game losing streak to the 2-time defending champions. The Jazz victory was sparked by Hayword, who put up a career high 22 points a day after his college team Butler flopped on the biggest stage.
"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."
Hayward was the difference in the second half of the game, scoring 14 points including a vicious dunk in traffic with a little over three minutes left that put the Jazz up for good. His hustle and skill was on display for all to see and it earned rare praise from Kobe Bryant.
"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."
The loss by the Lakers was a crucial one as they were hoping to catch the first place San Antonio Spurs for the number 1 seed in the West. With hone court throughout the playoffs at stake, Los Angeles looked flat and disinterested in the loss.
"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."
For the Jazz, not only did the win snap the eight game skid against the Lakers mentioned earlier but it also snapped a road losing streak against L.A. That goes back to 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 Utah's Al Jefferson. "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."
Photo Courtesy of: AP Images