INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The Utah Jazz's starters were as good as usual. The bench was unstoppable. And all the Los Angeles Lakers had was Shaquille O'Neal.
Add it all up and the Jazz is one win away from sweeping the Lakers and advancing to its second straight NBA Finals. Utah made all the big plays down the stretch again, posting a 109-98 win before a disbelieving Forum sellout crowd last night.
The Jazz can wrap up the Western Conference series here tomorrow afternoon. The last four times they have trailed 3-0 in a series, the Lakers have been swept.
It's not only history that is going against the Lakers. It's the present. Utah proved it is the superior team for the third straight game.
"Right now they're playing the best they can play, and I don't think they're going to play any worse," L.A.'s Nick Van Exel said.
"It's the first team that wins four games," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "That team beat Seattle four straight. We are aware of that."
Jazz reserve Shandon Anderson scored 11 points in the fourth, including nine in a decisive run after the Lakers had closed the gap to only two points, 82-80. Behind Anderson's scoring and earlier baskets from Chris Morris (15 points), the Jazz got 46 points from their reserves.
Karl Malone scored 26 points, including 22 in the second half, and helped to slow down O'Neal in the fourth quarter when O'Neal, with 12 points in the quarter, led the Lakers' comeback.
Inexplicably lethargic for most of the night, the Lakers were a one-man team. O'Neal did about all he could, pouring in a series-best 39 and getting 15 rebounds. But the Lakers' star had almost no help before fouling out late.
"We had a lot of good looks at the basket," said Del Harris, whose team made only 41 percent of its shots. "We missed a lot of close-in shots that might have made the difference. It was very quiet in the dressing room. Obviously, we all thought we would win the game."
Eddie Jones, a nonfactor the entire series, missed 13 of his 19 shots and finished with 16. Van Exel went only 2-for-13 from the field and missed seven of eight three-pointers.
O'Neill made 17 of 30 shots, but his teammates combined for only 18 baskets in 55 attempts.
Relying on its usual high level of execution and a sticky defense, and taking the game to the Lakers, the Jazz built an early 10-point lead.