In the old school NBA JAM 2-on-2 video game, players would get “On Fire” after three consecutive makes from the field.
On subsequent possessions with that player, the ball would turn orange, and a flame would follow the rock’s inevitable trail through the twine until the net singed off the rim.
That was just a video game, but perhaps riding the energy of a city’s first Finals appearance in 14 years, the Orlando Magic played as if each player were NBA JAM(ming), shooting an Finals record 62.5 percent (40-of-64) in the game, including a 75 percent (24-of-32) first half.
“Ball was going in the basket,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “That always works.”
Yet L.A. stuck around.
Never trailing by more than eight, the Lakers managed to cut Orlando’s lead to just three with 5:55 to go in the game when Pau Gasol nailed a baseline hook, and two when Derek Fisher hit a three with 5:25 remaining. Then, with eight fourth quarter points from Lamar Odom and some key defensive stops, Gasol drew a foul with 2:41 remaining, sinking both freebies to tie the score at 99. At the point, the shooting percentages mattered little.
“That tends to even out,” said Phil Jackson.
As such, the teams traded blows into the final minute, and the Lakers came up with a key stop on Gasol’s block with 37 seconds remaining in the game to get the ball and a chance to tie, down two at 104-102.
Bryant, the ball in his hands, had struggled after a ridiculous 17-point first quarter, making just 4-of-15 shots, but … well … he’s Kobe Bryant. One expects him to make a play.
Instead, while attempting a high pick and roll with Gasol, Bryant lost the ball when Dwight Howard reached in; Mickael Pietrus eventually gathering the loose ball after Gasol appeared to have control. Bryant then wrapped up Pietrus, who sunk both freebies at the other end, putting the Magic up four with 28.7 seconds remaining.
From that point forward, the Lakers missed four three-pointers, two by Bryant, and the Magic held on to win 108-104 after two Rashard Lewis free throws with 0:00.2 seconds on the clock.
“It’s disappointing,” said Bryant. “I’m used to coming through in those situations, my teammates trust me to come through but it didn’t happen.”
“They made some plays down the stretch we weren’t able to match, even though we got the best in that fourth quarter,” added Phil Jackson.
Contributions to Orlando’s win came from across their roster. After getting little from any of their role players in Games 1 and 2, the Magic received huge contributions from Rafer Alston (20 points) and Mickael Pietrus (18 points) on a collective 15-of-23 shooting, complimenting 60 combined points from Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu.
For the Lakers, Bryant ended up with 31 points and eight assists, while Pau Gasol added 23 points and Trevor Ariza 13, but 10 missed free throws and 25 personal fouls hurt the road team.
So, whether it was a less-than-good defensive effort throughout of one misplaced Kobe Bryant dribble that did L.A. in, the Magic held serve at home to bring the NBA Finals to 2-1 with Game 4 back in Amway Arena on Thursday.
Until then, some numbers:
Magic shooting percentage at halftime on a ridiculous 24-of-32, though the Lakers weren’t bad at all with 22-of-41 (53.7 percent) shots. L.A. actually had control for most of the half, but a late Magic charge produced a five-point cushion at the half.
Orlando’s Finals record shooting percentage for the game on 40-of-64 field goals. They also shot 23-of-30 (76.7 percent) from the line.
Combined points from Rafer Alston and Mickael Pietrus, who combined for just six points in Game 2 and 20 points in Game 1 (14 from Pietrus).
Second chance points for the Lakers to just five for the Magic, in part because of Orlando’s hot shooting (which didn’t allow any follow ups). The Lakers grabbed 11 offensive boards to five from Orlando.
Turnovers for both teams, which produced 16 points, respectively.
Points off L.A.’s bench from both Lamar Odom (eight of which came in the fourth quarter) and Jordan Farmar, who played 16 minutes off the bench. Shannon Brown didn’t see the floor, and Sasha Vujacic saw only three minutes off action at the end of the first and start of the second quarter.
Three pointers from the Magic on 14 attempts, meaning Orlando shot 35-of-50 on two-point field goals, otherwise known as 70 percent.