SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Kobe Bryant has some time to rest his back. Not that he appears to need it.
Bryant scored 34 points, 12 in the fourth quarter, and Los Angeles held off a furious rally by the Utah Jazz for a 108-105 victory Friday night in Game 6, putting the Lakers in the Western Conference finals for the first time in four years.
It was the only win by the visiting team in the series and kept the Lakers from having to host a Game 7 on Monday.
“It’s a big step for us,” said Bryant, who also had eight rebounds and six assists. “It shows a lot of character on our part to come in here and come out of here with a victory.”
Utah trailed by 19 points at halftime and 16 after three quarters, but got within two in the final minute.
“We ran out of gas a little bit in the second half as they played with a frenzy and intensity,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “I had confidence that we’d make the right plays at the end of the game.”
The Lakers will host the winner of Monday’s Game 7 between San Antonio and New Orleans when the Western Conference finals begin next week.
Whether he needs it or not, Bryant has a few days off as the Lakers wait and see who they play in their first Western Conference finals since 2004.
Bryant said his back was feeling fine, less than a week after it seized up on him early in Game 4 on Sunday when the Jazz tied the series at 2-2. Bryant was OK to play in Game 5 as the Lakers won at home, then on Friday was back to his MVP self.
The Lakers are 8-2 in the playoffs.
“It’s been a great journey and we want to keep it rolling,” Bryant said. “It’s a great accomplishment to get to the conference finals, but we believe we can accomplish much more.”
Pau Gasol finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds and teamed up with Lamar Odom to shut down Utah in the lane for most of the first three quarters. Gasol had four blocks and Odom had another as the Lakers flustered the Jazz early and built a lead that was too big for the Jazz to overcome.
Utah was 5-for-8 on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie it just before the buzzer, but Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams both missed from beyond the arc in the final seconds and Utah’s season was over.
Williams led Utah with 21 points and 14 assists. Carlos Boozer had 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Okur had 16 points and 10 boards, hitting two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter during Utah’s comeback.
“The same thing that hurt us in L.A., hurt us again. We had to play from behind and we could never get over the hump,” Williams said. “We gave them a little pressure in the second half and they got a little bit frantic. We should have been doing that the whole game.”
Los Angeles stopped Utah’s pick-and-roll and just about everything else the Jazz tried inside until the fourth. The Jazz started hurrying outside shots, which weren’t going in and the rebounds seemed to always bounce Gasol’s way. Nine of his 11 rebounds in the first half were defensive.
Utah finally started hitting from the perimeter and getting inside the lane for points in the fourth, but Bryant kept the Lakers from blowing the lead. Bryant made all seven of his foul shots in the fourth and finished the game 9-for-19 from the floor.
Odom finished with 13 points and made both his foul shots in the fourth quarter, after struggling from the line earlier in the series. The Lakers took 13 more free throws than the Jazz, getting sent to the line repeatedly as the Jazz tried to make up the deficit. They finished 31-for-38.
“They made it difficult for us from the start in stopping us from trying to do what we wanted to do,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “That’s what experience can do. They got in our face a little bit and gave us trouble right from the start.”
Reserve Paul Millsap added 15 points for Utah and led the Jazz on a 14-5 run early in the fourth quarter that set up the thrilling finish.
Williams made a reverse layup to cut it to 91-80, then the Lakers turned it over again when Boozer stepped in front of Gasol to deflect a pass and start another break for Utah, which Millsap finished with another dunk to make it 91-82. It was the first time the lead was single digits since the Lakers led 20-12.
“I was excited all night and I felt if we could get a little run going I thought we’d get back into the game but we just couldn’t get settled down until the end,” Sloan said.
After a timeout by the Lakers, Bryant was called for an offensive foul for an elbow to Matt Harpring. Harpring drew another foul on Bryant at the other end and made both free throws to get Utah within 93-86, but Bryant answered with a 3-pointer to put the Lakers back up by 10 and slow Utah’s run.
The Lakers led 101-91 with about two minutes left when the Jazz made their last-gasp push. Okur hit two 3-pointers, then Andrei Kirilenko hit another to cut the lead to 103-100 after Millsap blocked a layup by Bryant. Odom hit two free throws, followed by another 3 by Kirilenko, then Bryant hit two more from the line to make it 107-103 with 15.5 seconds left.
The Jazz went for a quick two points and scored on a dunk by Williams, then got a break when Derek Fisher went 1-for-2 from the line. Utah just needed a 3-pointer and got two off, but missed both and the buzzer sounded.
The Utah fans, who were loud all night and alternated between booing the Lakers and the officials, cheered the Jazz loudly as they left the floor for the final time.
“You know we had a valiant effort,” Boozer said. “We just fell a little short.”
The Lakers improved to 36-1 when winning first two games of best-of-seven series. … Utah was 37-4 at home this season and 4-2 in the playoffs. … Boozer fouled out with 4:34 left in the game. … Fisher, who played in Utah last season, and Williams hugged after the final horn.