Game 3 proved a emotional turnaround for the Orlando Magic in their NBA Finals series against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Magic nabbed not only their first victory in the series, but made the franchise’s first win in a Finals game. The last chance the Magic had a shot at a Finals win was 14 years ago against the Houston Rockets.
The Magic made their 108-104 victory on Tuesday night in grandiose style, finally hitting their groove in the series. Game 3 was a far cry from Games 1 and 2 in the series: in Game 1, the Magic shot an abysmal 29% from the field, and in Game 2, only 42%.
In Game 3, however, they seemed unable to miss a shot; in fact, Orlando set NBA Finals records both in the first half and overall for shooting. In the first half, the Magic made an astonishing 75% of their shots. Although they slowed down a bit in the second half, the team nevertheless finished the game with 62.5% overall.
With numbers like that, it’s a shock that the Magic only won by four.
The Lakers weren’t far behind in the game. Had the Los Angeles team been able to make a few more free throws here and there, or managed a few more rebounds, we might be looking at a third Lakers win – and a 0-3 series rut for the Orlando Magic that few teams in sports history have been able to claw their way out of.
But with Kobe Bryant spending himself in the first quarter and failing to pick his team up in the final stretch, the Lakers lost control of the series.
Bryant did, however, have a exceptional first quarter. Content for the first 6 minutes of the game to play spectator, Bryant seemingly decided at 5:41 in that it was time to impress his fans (including Tiger Woods, who, seated in the front row, recently professed his sustain of Los Angeles). In just over 5 minutes, Bryant made nine shots that bought his team 17 points, finishing with a 3-pointer and foul for a four-point play. By the end of the first half, Bryant had made 21 points.
The Magic had to be at their best to conquer Bryant – and, well, they were. already with Bryant’s impossible 3-pointers, Orlando was ahead in the first half, having made 24 of 32 shots.
By the second half, the Magic were able to excursion a wall between Bryant and the basket. Bryant managed to add only 10 points in the second half, missing 5 of 10 free throws, and going 4 of 16 in the field after the first quarter. In fact, after his second quarter rest, Bryant would not score in the next 32 Lakers possessions.
“I thought they really started coming hard at him,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson explained of Bryant. “[Dwight] Howard was consistently coming at him on shots, making it difficult. He never really got in rhythm again the same way.”
Courtney Lee, who was blamed for botching a difficult layup in Game 2, dedicated himself to defending Bryant, matching the superstar stride for stride and throwing off Bryant’s game.
Nor was the rest of Lee’s team lagging. Orlando had a huge game, with five players scoring 18 or more. Dwight Howard (with 14 rebounds) and Rashard Lewis (with five rebounds and five assists) scored 21 points apiece; Hedo Turkoglu (with seven assists and six rebounds) and Mickael Pietrus made 18 each; and “Skip” Rafter Alston returned to the game with 20 points.
Alston had a game that brought back nostalgic chatter about his days in New York City’s playgrounds. Alston went 4-for-4 in the first quarter, making his first five shots, and went 8-0f-12 overall; his performance ended any doubts plaguing his abilities as a point guard.
The game’s defining moment came with just over 2 minutes left, with a bucket by Pietrus that broke a 99-99 tie and put Orlando in the rule for good. Then Bryant went for a 3-pointer that rolled off the rim. Alston made one free throw after a foul; his point was followed by a bank shot by the Lakers’ Pau Gasol.
Alston managed a pass to Lewis for two points that brought the Magic’s rule to 104-101 with just over a minute remaining. Bryant was fouled and divided his shots, bringing the score to 104-102. Then Bryant seemed to fall apart. He turned the ball over to Pietrus and was then forced to foul him. Pietrus made both shots, and Orlando drew ahead to 106-102 with less than 30 seconds on the clock.
The Lakers missed the next four 3-pointers, with Bryant missing two long himself. He managed to cut the deficit to two on a putback, but Lewis made two free throws that brought the Magic to 108. The confetti began to fall; the Magic won.
“I’m used to coming by in those situations,” Bryant lamented. “The team trusts me to come by in those situations, and it just didn’t happen tonight.”
Game 4 is on Thursday in Orlando.