Coming up big in overtime, the Los Angeles Lakers took a 2-0 Finals lead at Staples Center with a 101-96 victory over the Orlando Magic. The Magic actually had a chance to win the game in regulation, but a lob pass to rookie Courtney Lee with .006 seconds left fell harmlessly off the basket as the horn sounded. The Lakers escaped to overtime, where they got huge plays from Pau Gasol, (24 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 blocked shot), Lamar Odom, (19 points on 8-9, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocked shots), and Derek Fisher, (12 points, 3 assists, 3 steals, 1 rebound). Kobe Bryant, (29 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 7 turnovers), led the Lakers in a game that resembled a pre-season tune-up rather than Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
Both teams started off slowly on offense, failing to capitalize on numerous turnovers and miscues. Orlando came out much more aggressive after their poor showing in their Game 1 blowout loss, and this helped them keep pace, however ragged and slow, with the favored Lakers. Trevor Ariza, (8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists), managed to sink a trey followed by a Gasol 7-footer in the lane to give the Lakers a brief 5-3 lead. Hedo Turkoglu, (22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), countered with a three pointer of his own, and the snail race was on. Andrew Bynum, (5 points, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots, 1 rebound), picked up two quick fouls trying to deny Dwight Howard, (17 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 4 blocked shots, 7 turnovers), in the post. LO came off the bench and payed immediate dividends, connecting on a layup off a Gasol feed and sinking a 20-foot jumper for a 13-12 lead with 2:36 left in the 1st quarter. Howard made 1-2 free throws followed by a layup after he pinned Gasol down low in the block. Fisher’s 20-foot jumper tied the score at 15-15 to end the low scoring 1st period.
Rashard Lewis, (34 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal), heated up in the 2nd quarter and carried the Magic offense. He accounted for 18 of Orlando’s 20 points in the stanza. Jordan Farmar, (4 points, 1 rebound), hit a pair of jumpers and Bynum converted on a three point play, then followed it up with a 11-foot hook shot in the key after freezing Howard with a “shake and bake” move. But Lewis continued his hot shooting and nailed a three pointer to knot the score at 26-26 with 6:22 left in the first half. Ariza, Fisher and Kobe all hit three pointers, but Lewis countered with three treys of his own. Pau hit a 16-footer while facing up on Howard, then scored on a dunk off a Kobe feed to give the Lakers a 5-point cushion at the end of the half, 40-35. Lewis hit 4-6 from behind the arc in the period and single handedly kept Orlando in the game.
Orlando sprinted out on a 12-6 run to open the 3rd quarter as Turkoglu began to find his rhythm to give them a brief 47-46 lead. A 12-footer by Gasol and a driving layup by Ariza pushed the Lakers back in front, but Howard got his first monster slam of the series off a fast break feed from Lewis. Turkoglu splashed a long trey to tie the score at 54-54 with 3:50 remaining. A pair of Jameer Nelson, (4 points in 17 minutes, 1 assist), free throws gave the lead back to Orlando, but Gasol tied it back up with two free throws himself. Hedo hit another three pointer giving the Magic a 59-56 advantage but Odom came back with a jumper to bring the Lakers back to within a point. Baskets by Howard and Nelson gave Orlando a 3-point lead at 63-60, but Fisher’s deep trey of his own tied it back up. Turkoglu scored on a 16-footer and Kobe’s long three point attempt missed wide as time ran out with Orlando holding a 65-63 lead after three quarters of play. Turkoglu accounted for 17 points in the period and Orlando had gained back the swagger that catapulted them to key road wins against both Cleveland and Boston.
The Lakers opened the 4th quarter on a 12-8 run to regain the lead and retake the momentum from the Magic. But the Magic dug deep and found the fortitude to keep coming back. Free throws by Howard, Lewis, and another trey from Turkoglu allowed the Magic to reclaim the lead at 81-79 with 4:13 remaining in regulation. The Staples Center crowd grew antsy as the Lakers staggered down the stretch. 5-6 free throws by Kobe gave the Lakers some measure of relief putting them ahead, 84-81 with 2:40 left. But J.J. Redick, (5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist), found himself all alone in the corner and nailed a three pointer to tie the score. Lewis hit a shot in the key, but Kobe countered with a 11-footer of his own to keep the Lakers even with the Magic. Turkoglu made a difficult 23-footer with his pinky toe on the line with :43 seconds left, for an 88-86 Orlando advantage forcing the Lakers to call time out to set up a play. Gasol made a layup off a Fisher feed to tie the score and Orlando came back on the attack but missed an opportunity to take the lead when Lee missed a layup. Odom secured the rebound and the Lakers called a 20-second timeout to set up the game winning play. Kobe was trapped in the backcourt and the ball was inbounded to Odom. He managed to get the ball back into Kobe’s hands as the crowd rose to their feet. Kobe blew by Turkoglu and found himself confronted by Orlando’s collapsing defense. Kobe pulled up for a fade away 12-footer, but Turkoglu had managed to trail the play and cleanly blocked the shot from behind. Orlando got possession of the ball with :006 seconds left on the clock which resulted in Lee’s miss at the buzzer.
Relief showed on their faces from their good fortune, and the Lakers started the overtime period with a pair of Gasol free throws to give them a 90-88 lead. But Howard got loose under the basket and Kobe tried to wrap him up only to commit the “and-1″ foul. Howard sank the free throw and the Magic took a 91-90 lead. Kobe hit a baseline 11-footer over Turkoglu to regain the lead at 92-91, then Redick threw an ill advised pass through traffic which D-Fish picked off. Fisher sprinted downcourt and drew the foul on Turkoglu and sank his pair of free throws for an 94-91 lead with 1:53 left in the overtime session. Turkoglu missed a jumper and the Lakers claimed the rebound. Kobe drove the lane, was triple teamed and found a wide open Gasol under the hoop for a left handed layup and the foul. Gasol sank the free throw and the Lakers had survived their first close call of the series. The Lakers converted on all 9 of their free throw attempts in the extra period and outscored the Magic, 13-8 for the 5-point victory. The Lakers were out-rebounded in the game, 44-35, but committed just 12 turnovers to the Magic’s 20. They also recorded 12 steals, shot 46.2% and 85.7% (24-28) from the line. Orlando managed only 41.8% and 74.1% (20-27) on their free throw attempts.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Whew! This was a close one. I knew Orlando would come out more focused than their disastrous performance in Game 1. But the Magic continued to play sloppy ball at key moments in the game. Dwight Howard was again confronted with two- and three- defenders collapsing on him in the paint. He was forced to kick the ball back out, and oftentimes threw the ball away to the Laker guards who skillfully played the passing lanes. This win would not have been possible last season. The Lakers played smart down the stretch and took care of the ball. The poor shooting by both squads evened themselves out and this game was determined by the Lakers defensive prowess to Orlando’s presence in the post. Fisher was particularly adept at stripping the ball from Howard and Ariza showed his value yet again, denying Howard post position on the switch, then poking the ball free for a steal after Howard thought that he had his man sealed.
Lamar Odom played equally well, contesting Howard in the paint and providing Pau Gasol with some much needed assistance. This game had all the makings of a disappointing loss, yet the Lakers managed to eke out the overtime win. I’m sure Magic fans will want to call for basket interference by Gasol on the Courtney Lee miss at the buzzer, but Howard clearly got away with one early in the game when he blocked Pau’s shot by sticking his hand through the basket. The game was plagued by tight calls throughout the contest. Neither team was ever able to find their offensive groove with a number of ticky-tack moving screen violations called. However tight the officiating was, neither team gained an advantage from the whistles. But the Lakers executed when they needed to, and Orlando’s turnovers finally did them in. J.J. Redick’s turnover in the overtime period was the turning point in the game and D-Fish took full advantage of the miscue. He barreled into the chest of Turkoglu, forcing the foul and the trip to the free throw line.
If the Lakers continue to box in Howard in the paint, they should do well on the road. For however powerful and mighty he is, Superman has been but a mere mortal in this series. Until he is able to develop a go-to post move, the Lakers will continue to crowd him and force him to be a passer instead. Howard led the league in dunks this season. He has recorded one dunk in 8 quarters of play and has been challenged on every single move to the basket. The Lakers strength remains their ability to pick off errant passes off the double team. Odom, Ariza and Fisher have played this role to perfection. And with Kobe allowed to roam as a free safety, either the Magic’s guards or their three point threats in Lewis and Turkoglu, need to cut to the basket to make the Lakers pay. But they’ve been content to sit behind the arc and wait for the action to come to them rather than initiate it on their own.
The determination and will of the Lakers is evident in the serious tone of the starters and through the support of their bench. I can’t recall the last time I saw Adam Morrison urging his teammates on and wanting to be a part of the team. Even Andrew Bynum was standing and showing his resolute support and encouragement. The ring’s the thing, and the Lakers are close. Has this team finally matured to be worthy as champions that we had all hoped they could be? Has Kobe finally gotten through to his teammates that together they can accomplish anything? And is Phil Jackson, again on the brink of passing Red Auerbach, finally due to get his 10th ring to firmly plant his legacy as one of the greatest coaches of all time? Stay tuned for Game 3 on Tuesday Laker fans. Same Laker time. Same Laker channel.