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Magic moment ends with miss

LOS ANGELES – The pass left Hedo Turkoglu's(notes) hands, and all Courtney Lee(notes) wanted was for the ball to hurry up and get to him. The clock was frozen at .6 seconds, and everything around Lee seemed to have also stopped in place. His Orlando Magic teammates. Kobe Bryant(notes), whom he had just darted past, and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers. The nearly 19,000 fans standing on their feet.

It was just Lee, the ball and the basket. The second game of the NBA Finals had come down to a rookie trying to catch his moment in time.

"I just had to finish," Lee would later say.

He didn't, and that's the curse that has hung over these Magic for nearly a decade and a half. Fourteen years to the day after Nick Anderson hiccupped away Orlando's championship hopes at the free-throw line, Lee was in perfect position to give the franchise its first Finals victory.

Like Anderson, he missed.

The pass reached Lee's hands. Fate slipped through them. He caught Turkoglu's lob, released a short bank shot in the same motion, then watched as the ball caromed off the backboard and glanced off the front of the rim. The buzzer sounded, and Lee put his hands on his head in disbelief.

The Magic still had overtime to right themselves, but their opportunity was gone. The Lakers quickly pushed past the Magic for a 101-96 victory that gave them a 2-0 lead in the series.

"By the time I caught it, and tried to make a play," Lee said, "it was over."

The Magic's chances at winning these Finals might be done, too. They jetted home with the comfort of knowing the next three games will be played in Orlando, but history offers no comfort: Of the past 12 teams to lose Games 1 and 2 of the Finals on the road, only one has rallied to win the series.

The Magic have proven their resilience time and again during these playoffs. They trailed against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. They trailed the Boston Celtics in the second. They weathered LeBron James'(notes) miracle shot in the East finals.

But down 2-0, against these Lakers? That might be asking too much, especially when the Magic also know they wasted a terrific chance to even the series.

"There was almost a moment of celebration," Magic guard J.J. Redick(notes) said.

Almost. After Turkoglu blocked Bryant's shot with .6 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Magic used a timeout to draw up their chance to win. Turkoglu initially tried to get a lob to Dwight Howard(notes), but burned another timeout when the Magic center couldn't free himself from Pau Gasol(notes). Coach Stan Van Gundy changed the play during the huddle: Rashard Lewis(notes), who had carried the Magic most of the night, would set a screen while Lee tried to separate from Bryant and bolt down the lane toward the basket.

The Magic had worked on the play a couple times in practice, but never used it in a game with Lee as the lob option. It was up to Turkoglu to read the defense, and he gave Lee two words of instruction: Be ready.

"If you can do it on your own guys in practice, you should be able to do it on different teams that have never seen it before," Lee said.

Kobe later called the play "brilliant," and that was because it worked perfectly. Lee got free of him, and, suddenly, was at the rim alone.

"It was kind of surreal for a second," Redick said, "because I couldn't believe how open he was."

Kobe thought the same. Asked what was going through his mind after he saw Lee head toward the rim, his answer wasn't fit for FCC standards: "[Bleep]!"

Even Lee likely wondered: I can't be this open.

"I got a good look at the backboard, tried to get it up there as quick as possible," he said. "The ball rolled off the rim."

Some Magic officials complained that Gasol's hand might have touched the rim for a possible goal-tending violation. All Lee knows is he missed – again. He earlier rimmed out a floater that also would have given the Magic the lead with 33.5 seconds left.

"Both were just about equally good looks," he said.

Lee played just 12 minutes, and was likely in the game late only because Mickael Pietrus(notes) fouled out. A rookie from Western Kentucky, he had become a productive member of the Magic's starting lineup then missed three games earlier in the playoffs after Howard fractured his sinus with an errant elbow. He's worn a mask since, and his primary duty in these Finals has been to help guard Bryant.

Lee spent much of the night on the bench as Van Gundy searched for someone, anyone, who could make a shot. Van Gundy even went without a point guard down the stretch, sitting both Rafer Alston(notes) and Jameer Nelson(notes). Redick, who totaled just 10 minutes in the East finals, played 27 on Sunday, making only two of his nine shots. All game, Van Gundy juggled his lineup, hoping to find a winning combination.

"What do they say, 'Just keep throwing stuff at the wall, and hope something sticks?' " he joked.

The Magic didn't lose because of Lee's miss. Twenty turnovers did them in, along with the poor shooting of nearly everyone but Lewis and Turkoglu. But Lee did have the best chance to give them a win.

Afterward, he stood in front of his locker and politely answered question after question, replaying the shot in his head time and again. In the end, he could say only one thing: He missed.

Fourteen years earlier, Nick Anderson did the same. With the Magic leading the Houston Rockets late in Game 1 of the 1995 Finals, Anderson missed four consecutive free throws. The Rockets went on to win in overtime then swept the Magic. A year later, Shaquille O'Neal(notes) left Orlando for the Lakers. Among some fans, Anderson was forever known as "Nick the Brick."

Lee was 9 years old at the time, but he knows the history. All the Magic do. They also know the lesson. Opportunities like this don't come along often. Miss one, and who knows when you'll get another?

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