Magic 108 Lakers 104
ORLANDO, Fla. — Missing for two games, Orlando found its Magic touch.
Making easy shots and tough ones from everywhere, the Magic won their first game in two visits to the NBA finals as Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis scored 21 points apiece in a 108-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 on Tuesday night to pull within 2-1.
Orlando shot a finals record 63 per cent — including another record 75 per cent in the first half — to snap a six-game finals losing streak and avoid falling into an 0-3 hole that 88 previous teams in postseason history have been unable to escape.
“Well, it was going in the basket. That always works,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “That formula’s always tried and true.”
Kobe Bryant, seeking a fourth title and his first since 2002, scored 31 points for the Lakers but the superstar had just 10 points in the second half and went only 4-of-15 from the field after the first quarter.
He also missed five free throws, points that could have given the Lakers that 3-0 lead.
Game 4 is Thursday night, and Game 5 will be at Amway Arena on Sunday.
The Lakers, going for their 15th title and looking to redeem themselves for losing to Boston last season, have lost their stranglehold.
“This is a tough team, not a cupcake team,” Bryant said. “Extremely well coached, execute well and we’ve got our work cut out.”
With their season 48 minutes from all but disappearing, the Magic, hosting their first finals game since 1995, had five players score at least 18 points.
Rafer Alston, who was just 3-of-17 from the field in the first two games, had 20 and Hedo Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus 18 each.
“We’ve got to play like this,” Howard said. “When guys are attacking we’re tough to guard.”
Pau Gasol scored 23 points but had just three rebounds and the Lakers were only 16-of-26 from the line.
For a while, it appeared the Magic, who shot just 36 per cent while dropping Games 1 and 2 at Staples Centre, couldn’t or wouldn’t miss.
From 20 feet, swish. From 10 feet, nothing but net. Layups, runners, banks, pull-ups, didn’t matter. You name it, if it went up, more times than not it went in.
Orlando made 24 of 32 shots in the first half and only cooled off a little in the third quarter as they entered the fourth at a 65 per cent clip and clinging to an 81-75 lead.
Bryant sat out the first 4:47 of the fourth, and when he finally subbed in, the Lakers were still down by five and unable to do anything to stop the Magic’s marksmanship.
But then, Orlando began to misfire at the worst time possible.
After Pietrus was long with a wide-open three, Gasol was fouled at the other end and made two free throws to make it 99 all with 2:41 remaining. Orlando’s rowdy crowd, which waited 14 years for a chance to welcome the Larry O’Brien Trophy to town, grew nervous.
“Oh, boy,” muttered one fan near the media section.
But Pietrus calmed fears by dunking in a rare miss to put the Magic up two, and when Lewis hit a jumper — it was originally called a three but replays showed his right foot was on the line — Orlando was up 104-101.
Howard was called for a questionable foul on a drive by Bryant, who then split his two free throws. When he went to the Lakers bench during a timeout that followed, Bryant hit himself in the head for letting two more valuable points slip away.
Orlando couldn’t capitalize, though, and the Lakers got the ball back when Lewis missed a baseline jumper and the rebound went off him and out of bounds.
Bryant, who scored 17 in the first quarter and 21 by halftime, then maybe tried to do too much.
He crossed over to get past Pietrus, but Howard, the league’s defensive player of the year known mostly for his blocks underneath, made like a point guard and tipped the ball away.
Pietrus was fouled and made both to make it 106-102.
The Lakers suddenly became desperate. Instead of working the ball into Gasol or Lamar Odom, they fired away from outside.
They couldn’t shoot with the Magic.
Bryant missed a three, Trevor Ariza misfired on one, Bryant clanged another and Derek Fisher was long as the Lakers went 0-for-4 on a possession where they had to have points.
Bryant scored on a putback with .05 seconds left, but it was too late and although there was still time left, confetti began to fall to the court.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson felt Bryant looked tired down the stretch.
“We’re all frail as humans,” he said. “Sometimes not as much as others.”
Orlando, which was swept by the Houston Rockets 14 years ago, could finally celebrate winning one on pro basketball’s biggest stage.
Bryant fouled Lewis with .02 seconds to go, and as Magic fans hugged and danced at an outcome they longed for, he dropped two more to seal it.
The last time Orlando hosted a finals game, Howard was a nine-year-old kid in Atlanta and Shaquille O’Neal was the Magic’s Superman.
Outside the cramped arena, which had a red Superman cape hanging off one wall, Orlando fans, one of them dressed as Jack Nicholson and carrying a sign that read: “Jack, You Can’t Handle The Truth,” gathered on the sidewalks hoping this would be a night their team could get back into the series.
This was their magic night.