June 10, 2009
The pendulum swung Orlando's way in Game 3, giving the team its first win in the series, the first NBA Finals win in the franchise's history, and a needed conquest in a close game just 48 hours after losing an overtime thriller in Los Angeles.
Offense was the story, both teams executed very well and finished superbly on that end, with the Magic shooting 62 percent while boasting five players who scored 18 points or more. The Lakers rode a hot hand from Kobe Bryant(notes) in the first half that gave way to a balanced offensive attack of their own in the second.
The story will be that Bryant was unable to seal the deal down the stretch for Los Angeles, and that's fair, but he had plenty of help on his way to a rough fourth quarter. Courtney Lee(notes) and Mickael Pietrus(notes) played excellent defense in that second half (and the first half, really, Bryant was just nailing tough shots) and Dwight Howard's(notes) vaunted help defense finally showed up significantly in this series in the fourth quarter.
Bryant, an 84 percent free-throw shooter over the course of his career, missed 5 of 10 freebies in Game 3. It wasn't just down the stretch, either, as he seemed to have a hitch in his free-throw stroke from the beginning of the game. The Lakers missed 10 free throws overall, death in what was essentially a one- or two-possession game for 48 minutes.
These are all quibbles, however, as Game 3 was a stunner to behold from beginning to end. There were mistakes on both sides, but overall this was a tremendous offensive showing from both teams, a needed respite after what was a pretty ugly (though competitive) Game 2.
And as to Orlando's place in this series, as is often the case, Kobe Bryant said it best. "This," he told the assembled media, after the Lakers loss, describing the victorious Magic, "is not a cupcake team."
We'll have more on this contest, Behind the Box Score-style, early on Wednesday morning.