Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Game 3: Orlando Magic 108, Los Angeles Lakers 104

Knowing Orlando's history, it figured the celebration would be delayed by something. The buzzer rang, the confetti fell to the ground. But the game was not over. Far from it. 0.2 seconds from it.

Rashard Lewis hit two comfortable-looking free throws and the Magic had their first Finals win. Savor it for a few hours. Because after a raucous and wild offensive showing in Game Three, there is plenty of work to do for Thursday's Game Four.

But to revel in tonight's game.

It was an offensive clinic. The Magic shot an NBA Finals high 62.5 percent for the game. The aggression off the dribble was a lot higher and Orlando looked to get to the rim rather than standing around the 3-point line. The Magic did a great job balancing their 3-point shooting and attacking the basket and getting the ball to Dwight Howard.

It was about as perfect an offensive game that could have been played.

It started with Rafer Alston. Alston attacked the basket and looked to score -- a major change from the first two games. He had 20 points and shot eight of 12 from the floor. He was especially damaging in the third quarter as Orlando expanded its lead.

The fourth quarter then became a showing of Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard's playmaking ability. The two exploited Los Angeles' poor pick and roll defense. Turkoglu got where he wanted on the floor and hit some difficult shots.

When he was not, he fed the ball to Howard. Howard once again hit his free throws as Los Angeles did a good job keeping him from scoring field goals. He hit 11 of 16 free throws on his way to 21 points.

As Orlando's pick and roll was more successful and Howard continued to hit his free throws, he started getting more shots.

As good as the offense was, the defense was just as mediocre.

It is hard to call the defensive effort horrible.

The Magic did a good job keeping Kobe Bryant from going to the rim and he took plenty of difficult shots. He also took his fair share of shots that were lightly contested.

Bryant had 31 points on 11 of 25 shooting. His biggest misstep was a poor five for 10 from the line, including two big free throws in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game with about two minutes to play.

Plenty went the right way in Orlando's first game back in the Amway Arena. Bryant's free throw struggles were one. The 62 percent shooting might have been another one. But you take the hand you're dealt.

Los Angeles shot well too, hitting 51.8 percent of its shots. How did the Lakers stay in the game? They attacked the offensive glass. Los Angeles grabbed 11 offensive boards and converted on most of those second-chance opportunities.

It was a night when most shots were falling for both teams. The Magic were not quite as lock down defensively as they had been in Game Two. Orlando held a nine point lead with six minutes left and saw it disappear by the time the two minute mark came around. With Bryant on the court, it is tough to win when that happens.

Orlando, to its credit, closed this one out on the defensive end. Offensive execution was assumed on this night. But Howard knocked away a Bryant drive and Mickael Pietrus grabbed it and was fouled before getting the chance to run the other way.

This was another game that came down to who could execute in the clutch. In this game, Orlando made the stops when it needed to, hit free throws and executed its gameplan to perfection.

It was tough to say the Lakers put in their best effort and, defensively, it was tough to say the Magic did so too.

There is still plenty of things to work on to win this series, so the celebration in the Finals can afford to be delayed another week.

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