You knew it was only a matter of time in this series before the Orlando Magic would play their best game. From the opening tip, they hit shot after shot after shot.
In the first half, the Magic set a record for the best shooting percentage in any half of an NBA Finals game, shooting 75 percent. They set another record for a single game by finishing with a shooting percentage of 62.5 percent on their way to a 108-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
No Orlando starter hit less than 50 percent of their shooting attempts. Mickael Pietrus got into the act, coming off the bench to shoot 7-for-11 and finish with 18 points.
The Magic have been able to get back into the series due to excellent production from the aforementioned Pietrus, along with point guard Rafer Alston, who finished with 20 points on the night. For the first time all series, the Magic were finally able to get productive play from their guards.
From field goal percentage, to guard play, to taking care of the ball, everything went Orlando’s way on the stat sheet, and yet they still only beat the Lakers by four points.
Los Angeles was in this game until the very end. Kobe Bryant missed a crucial free throw down the stretch and committed a costly turnover with the game still in reach. Bryant finished with 31 points and eight assists but went three-for-14 from the field after making eight of his first eleven shots. Pau Gasol scored 23 points but only grabbed three rebounds.
Another missing ingredient from tonight’s Laker box score was the production of Lamar Odom. Odom finished with just 11 points and two rebounds. Odom seemed to be out of the rhythm of the game in the first three quarters because of foul trouble. In the fourth quarter he finally started to play aggressively by driving the ball to the basket and picking up points.
Trevor Ariza, who has shot close to 50 percent for the playoffs from the three point line, had an off night. Ariza connected on just two of his seven attempts from behind the arc.
Tonight was a big win for Orlando, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. They had to pull out tonight’s game to have any shot of beating the Lakers in this series. They fed off the energy of the home crowd and played their best game against Los Angeles.
Orlando now has one game under their belt, and most importantly, the confidence that they can win games in this series. This could be the spring board to great things for them in the remaining games of the series, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they even things up on Thursday night.
That being said, the Lakers are a veteran group that has been to the Finals before and Bryant and Fisher have each been on three championship teams in their careers. They know that defensively they did not bring anything close to their best effort.
I look for Phil Jackson to make the necessary adjustments, and for the Lakers to have confidence in the fact that Orlando played at their best and still only beat them by four points. Like Orlando, the Lakers have showed an ability of their own to come back in the next game from sub par efforts.
With Game Three turning out the way it did, both teams have a lot to build on for Thursday night. Will the Magic even up the series? Will the Lakers be one game away from winning a 15th championship? We’ll all find out a little less than 48 hours from now.