Magic Take Down Kobe and Lakers for Game 3 Win


Jun 10

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

So what if your plan works and you still lose?

That seems to be what happened to the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday in their attempt to effectively close out the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals. The Lakers kept up their attention on Dwight Howard, who did shake loose a bit more with a quicker team tempo and diving into better post position. The Lakers also kept the Orlando long distance shooters from breaking away with three point shots, their specialty.

Still, the Magic won 108-104 to begin to turn this into a series. The Lakers now lead 2-1 with the next two games in Orlando. It wasn’t a dominating win like the Lakers had in Game 1. The Magic Tuesday set the all time Finals shooting records of 62.5 percent for the game and an amazing 75 percent in the first half. Yet, they needed a huge Mickael Pietrus offensive rebound with the score tied at 99 and put back and Rashard Lewis jumper while ahead 102-101 to hold off the Lakers down the stretch.

“Ball was going in the basket,” noticed Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “That always works. That is a tried and true formula. We’ve shot 29 percent (Game 1). Is that the lowest in history (second)?

“When the ball goes in, those look like really good shots,” said Van Gundy. “And when they don’t go in, you say, ‘Wow, they’re not getting any good shots.’ When the ball is going in 62 percent of the time, yeah, those are great shots.”

Then, it was a defensive play that sealed it as Howard and Pietrus combined to strip Kobe Bryant trying to split a double team. Bryant kept the Lakers in the game with 21 of his 31 points in the first half. But Bryant faltered down the stretch with the aforementioned turnover and missed free throws, overall making just five of 10 for the game.

“My rhythm was off at the free-throw line,” said Bryant. “I just shot poorly from the free-throw line. It was a bad night. It was disappointing. I’m used to coming through in those situations, the team trusts me to come through in those situations, and it just didn’t happen tonight. Just got to bounce back, be ready to go for Game 4.”

The Lakers, though an offensive minded team this season, succeeded in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles by slowing the pace, getting back in transition and putting the Magic in a more uncomfortable halfcourt game. Orlando struggled with that in Los Angeles. But in pushing the ball more in Game 3, Orlando also succeeded in rousing much criticized Rafer Alston, who had complained earlier in the series about being replaced too much by Jameer Nelson.

Alston had been three of 17 shooting in the first two games pairing with Courtney Lee, who was four of 13, in likely the worst backcourt ever to play in an NBA Finals. I’d always considered Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell with the Rockets in 1994 the worst backcourt to win an NBA championship, and this got so bad for the Magic Van Gundy stopped using any point guard at the end of Game 2 and in overtime.

“Rafer has bounced back well in the playoffs before,” Van Gundy pointed out. “He’s had great games in the playoffs, and he’s had some other games that weren’t as good. That’s just sort of the way it goes. I mean, again, I don’t think there’s any big psychological mystery to the whole thing.”

Alston came out hitting shots Tuesday and Van Gundy stayed with him for almost 37 minutes. Van Gundy quipped he considered himself a motivational genius for spending two days deciding what to tell Alston to shake him out of his slump and finally came up with, “Play your game.”

It worked. Brilliant!

The almost always poor shooting Alston was eight of 12 for 20 points as Orlando had three players score at least 20 and two more 18. Howard had 21 points and 14 rebounds and was 11 of 16 on free throws.

It was a remarkable shooting display by the Magic, and you’d look at the box score and blame defense. It was in some sense as Pau Gasol, who had 23 points, doesn’t give that much effort on defense under most circumstances, though he has been trying to fight Howard in this series. Gasol has been getting a lot of credit in these playoffs, and deservedly so. But he remains a finesse defender and won’t step in for charges and lets penetrators get to the basket fairly easily.

Being pushed off the three point line, the Magic adjusted nicely, attempting just 14 threes to 23 for the Lakers despite the Magic being the second most prolific three point shooting team in the league and averaging almost 27 per game in the regular season.

But they did a good job in stepping inside the Lakers’ contests on defense and going to the basket or pulling up for short jumpers inside the defense.

“I’m not smart enough to come up with something real sophisticated,” said Van Gundy. “But you would hope that you’re trying to take what the defense gives you and that you’re always designed to attack the basket for us on a post-up or a pick-and-roll, and if they spread out to try to take away the threes more then you’ve got room to throw the ball or drive it inside to Dwight, and if they stay in the paint, you get open shots and hopefully knock them down. It’s the way we’ve played all year really for two years, and when we take 30 threes in a game, people write. ‘Live by the three, die by the three, can’t win that way.’ Everything else. That’s the way we play and we’re not going to change. What you hope is you’re making the right decisions, handling the ball well and taking good shots. We’re not going to decide, though, we’ve got to get it in the paint or we’ve got to take the three. If you look at them, we did the same thing. We try to pull over on Kobe’s pick-and-rolls. He’s throwing the ball out and Ariza and Fisher are shooting threes. I think that’s what good, smarter teams do. You space the floor correctly, you make the right decision and you take the shot that’s there and you live with it.”

Andrew Bynum, though starting aggressively, wears down quickly and again—and we have to assume it’s a slow return from injury or he really isn’t that good—looked slow to react.

The Magic used Tony Battie more with Howard to give them some size in trying to draw Lamar Odom away from helping on Howard down low. Battie hit a pair of jumpers and also hit Howard with some inside passes. The tactic had the effect of limiting the Lakers coming from so many directions to double team Howard and coming at different times as Orlando was better able to occupy the Lakers with their shooting.

The Magic, with Nelson playing 11 minutes, which was about right, used Alston’s speed to attack the older Derek Fisher. Fisher had been having a rebirth in this series after being used as a revolving door earlier, especially against the Rockets quicker guards. But the quicker Alston was attacking and able to beat Fisher, further causing the Lakers to rotate inside and be out of position when Alston pitched out or hit shooting with drive and kicks.

As the Lakers were laying off the Magic guards, the Magic in swarming to Bryant was laying off Trevor Ariza, who did have 13 points and a pair of threes though was five of 13.

I got to thinking watching Ariza starting in the Finals and working on this draft that if you go back and analyze drafts for the last decade or so, my guess is you have Isiah Thomas one of the best executives with picking talent. I know it seems a ludicrous supposition given the condemnation Thomas received in New York. But Ariza was one of those hustle guys Thomas selected late in the draft. He got several like that in New York down low like David Lee, Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler, and in Toronto was an annual executive of the year candidate after his three drafts were Damon Stoudemire, Tracy McGrady and Marcus Camby, all becoming longtime NBa players.

Just something I was thinking about on the way to 2-1 and this series not being as over as we thought it would or should be.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson offered that Bryant looked tired and he really wanted to keep him out longer in the fourth quarter but the Magic was pulling away, ahead by nine with about 7:30 left and eight a minute later.

“He’ll say no,” Jackson said after agreeing Bryant was a bit tired.

Bryant did say he was fine and ready to go.

The Magic kept Bryant quiet late, but the Lakers had multiple fourth quarter contributors. Ariza hit a big three, Gasol came in with a baby hook, Fisher had a three and Odom got deep for a score, and suddenly a game the Magic controlled all night seemed to be slipping away as Lewis had a pass inside picked off and the Magic again lost the ball trying to force it in to Lewis as he had a mismatch with Fisher.

But this time the Magic made the big plays, and it was the Lakers, Bryant of all guys, with the big mistakes, the missed free throw and strip when he didn’t have to try to split the double.

“We’re all frail as humans,” theorized Jackson. “Some… not as much as others.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below: