OK, before I get into my running blog, I have have to say that this turned out to be one of the greatest games I've ever seen (and I've been watching the NBA for over 25 years).
I can't think of a game off the top of my head that took me through so many emotions and twists. The game ended about 15 minutes ago, and I am still completely adrenalized. I can't believe what I watched tonight.
OK, enough with the build up, here goes the blog:
I begin watching the pregame show at 5:30 p.m. my time (California). The pregame isn't doing much for me, so I flip to ESPN 2 where they are showing one of my favorite things in the world: dog jumping! If you've never seen a slow motion shot of a dog flying 25 feet through the air, you simply must check it out sometime. There's nothing like it.
So, to that whole NBA game thing going on:
During the pre-game introductions all the Lakers look pumped up. They're running down the line, jumping around, etc. When it comes to Kobe, he quietly walks down the line with his hands out slightly for his teammates to touch.
He has the scowl and a look of intensity you don't see during a pre-game. I have to say he looks like a man who's about to rip the hearts out of the Magic faithful.
Wait! Stan Van Gundy has the scowl, too! Hmmm. This could get interesting.
I am extremely tired right now. Fortunately, I have enough Dr. Pepper on hand to kill a small goat.
Jeff Van Gundy: “You can never count on shooting 62 percent from the field for a whole game.” (like say, the Magic in Game 3). This is kind of the key dilemma of the series, isn't it?
If the Lakers win this game, the series is basically over. If the Magic win, it's a new series. Could the stakes be any higher?
On ABC's “Wipeout,” “that is one big fat ugly woman.”
My girlfriend then takes a three-hour nap and misses out on history. On the other hand, her sleeping while I'm watching the game and working just might make her one of the best girlfriends ever, don't ya think?
12:00 The referee botches the opening toss. What a great omen...
11:01 Courtney Lee misses his second wide-open 3 from the corner.
9:52 Lee finally makes one.
9:31 Fisher makes his first shot, a rainbow jumper in traffic. Lakers lead 4-3.
8:54 Lee bites and fouls Kobe on a pump-fake for the 75,845th time this series.
8:14 Fisher takes a “blow to the head.”...and this is a bad thing?...ok, that was in poor taste.
7:58 Howard decks Gasol with a right elbow right in front of the referee and has the nerve to argue about it.
6:12 Hedo Turkoglu; typically when a pass ends up in the third row, that's a bad pass.
6:04 Kobe goes one on three. Of course he scores, AND ONE.
5:50 We've reached the first “mandatory” (cash crop) timeout. The Magic lead 12-11.
4:53 Dwight Howard already has NINE freaking rebounds!
4:10 An Odom half-hook in the lane makes it 16-13, Magic.
3:44 Laker foul trouble brings in DJ Mbenga, who has played a total of 12 minutes in the '09 playoffs.
2:48 Mike Breen: “Ariza with a T, Orlando by three.”
1:08 Hedo makes a touch foul on Luuuuuuuuuuuke Walton. Uh oh, this brings in J.J. Redick. (I scramble to ready my one-liners).
The Lakers have a lineup on the floor consisting of Kobe, Walton, Farmar, Mbenga and Powell. This reminds me of one of those “NBA cares” commercials where you see an NBA player on the court teaching a bunch of first graders the game.
The quarter ends with a Redick miss... in a related story, water is wet and the sky is blue (too easy).
At the end of one quarter, Kobe has 13 points and Howard has 11 rebounds.
This is already an intense game. Bynum, Gasol and Odom have two fouls each, leading to the aforementioned lineup.
With the foul trouble already looming, I'm hoping like heck the refs don't decide this game.
Phil Jackson being interviewed: “I don't know what the refs are looking at.” Neither do I Phil, neither do I.
11:59 The Lakers begin the quarter playing man-to-man full court. They have a bit of success slowing the Magic down. It also occurs to me that this strategy could force the Magic to play with a point guard on the floor in crunch time (which they hate to do).
11:16 Jameer Nelson's first shot misses by a foot.
10:53 Howard is called for an offensive three-second call. He was there for about six seconds, but the Magic couldn't get him the ball. This would prove to be a sign of things to come.
10:02 Howard decks Nelson (his own teammate) to grab a rebound. Hey, whatever it takes, right?
8:56 Timeout. Magic lead 30-24.
8:13 Gasol posts and scores over Gortat. To say this is a mismatch is the understatement of the year (side-note: Gortat came in and played a few strong minutes and never came back in. SVG strikes again).
7:52 Magic lead swells to 37-27. Kobe re-enters the game.
7:18 Things are getting VERY physical. Please refs, don't ruin this game!
5:53 Odom gets called for a ticky-tacky foul while guarding Hedo. Meanwhile, Kobe and Rashard Lewis are training for the UFC with no whistles.
4:24 The Lakers are called for their second technical foul. This is not the sign of the veteran team keeping their cool in the midst of a game that's becoming brutally physical.
3:52 Lewis is called for a moving screen. Ok, here's my problem here: the Magic are doing this literally every single possession. How the heck are the refs deciding when to call it and when not to? I really don't know.
2:46 Rebounds: Lakers: 14. Dwight Howard: 14.
2:03 In an uber-physical game, Fisher dares try to flop, no call thankfully. Magic lead 47-35.
1:31 Josh Powell makes a baseline jumper. All seven of us that have ever seen him play know that he is actually money from there.
Four commercial breaks in one minute of game played? Enough already!
Halftime, Magic lead 49-37. Remember this, Magic up by 12 at the half in this game.
Magic Johnson and the Zen master are on the same page. They both note that the Lakers don't seem to have a plan for how to win this game. Jackson then mentions, “defense will lead to offense.”
11:47 Alston make a sweet dribble move to the rim and misses a wide open layup... what does this remind you of?
10:05 The Lakers are still more interested in looking for whistles than trying to stop the Magic.
9:40 Ariza makes a steal and breakout dunk. 51-41 Magic.
9:15 A Kobe three-ball makes it 51-44. Pietrus gets up off the Orlando bench.
8:21 Hedo makes an absurd jumper falling out of bounds to his left.
7:58 Ariza makes an open three. SVG calls timeout. The Magic lead is down to five. The crowd has gone quiet. The Laker defense is leading to scores on offense...this sounds familiar also.
7:11 Hedo picks up his fourth foul guarding Ariza and heads to the bench. This is baaaaaaaad timing for the Magic, who now lead just 54-53.
6:41 Ariza drains another three, giving him 11 points in the quarter. 54-53 Magic.
5:58 Bynum free-throws give the Lakers a 55-54 lead. They are on an 18-5 run and the Magic 12 point lead is history in a mere six minutes. They will be thinking about this for a VERY long time.
4:54 Howard refuses to give up on any play. Bynum picks up his fourth foul. JVG notes, “I didn't see anything.”
4:26 Fisher is hitting the deck darn near every play, matching Howard's intensity.
2:50 The refs are still calling touch fouls, but letting muggings go. Is this intentional? I simply don't understand the mindset of the officials.
1:49 An Ariza run-out layup gives the Lakers a 63-61 lead.
1:28 Kobe and Howard get tangled up under the rim leading to a heated exchange. This is an incredible and symbolic moment. This is the biggest game of the year and the two best players are looking each other in the eye for the first time. They both know that the other will not back down or give up. One of them will have to take the game away from the other.
Kobe makes an absurd flat-footed shot in the lane.
Lakers now lead 67-63 at the end of the third quarter. They covered 16 points in one quarter. Again, Magic fans will remember this for a very long time.
Based on the last 10 minutes, I now have the feeling that I'm witnessing history here. Something very special is happening.
11:38 Do you really think the Magic want Tony Battie shooting jumpers right about now?
10:39 Alston was having an impact on this game. Nelson is bringing nothing. Mark Jackson says as much. Note: Nelson would make a couple of key plays down the stretch, but the reality is that SVG's loyalty to Nelson hurt his team in this game, and this series for that matter.
10:16 Fisher takes about 27 steps on the way to the rim for a layup. Lakers lead 71-65.
9:54 Odom fouls Hedo on a three-point attempt. A horrific defensive play, giving him five fouls. Lakers lead 71-67.
9:09 Once again, the Magic can't get an open Howard the ball under the rim (one of the keys to this game). He ends up getting called for an offensive foul.
7:52 Pietrus makes a big corner three. Kobe responds with a long jumper while wearing Pietrus like a wetsuit. Lakers lead 75-70.
5:38 Pietrus lay-in AND ONE. 76-75 Magic re-take the lead.
5:04 Hedo misses two free throws.
3:24 Hedo goes back to the free-throw line and makes one of two. 79-79 tie.
3:02 A Howard three-point play gives the Magic an 82-79 lead.
2:35 Ariza drains a three from the dressing room with the shot clock expiring. 82-82.
1:34 A Hedo floater in the lane makes it 87-82 Magic. It appears the Magic have weathered the Laker storm and are going to win this thing.
The Lakers utilize a two-for-one. A Gasol dunk makes it 87-84 Magic.
11.1 Howard is fouled and heading to the line. If he makes even one of two this thing is over. He misses both. Magic fans are having Nick Anderson flashbacks.
Lakers ball, three-point game. You have to think that Kobe is shooting even if he has five guys, three monkeys and an army of drunken midgets guarding him.
The Lakers take the ball full court, giving them a better chance to get the ball inbounds and forcing the Magic to defend the entire court.
This is a brilliant move by the Zen master and I'm honestly not sure how many coaches in the league would have the stones to do this with so little time on the clock.
The inbounds pass goes to Kobe in the back-court. He is swarmed immediately and gives up the ball. (so much for my theory). The pass goes to Fisher, who charges down court.
Ok, time running down. If you're the Magic, a three pointer is the ONLY thing that can hurt you. Either foul Fisher immediately and send him to the line or let him cruise to the hoop for a bucket. TWO POINTS MEAN NOTHING RIGHT NOW! I repeat TWO POINTS MEAN NOTHING!
Apparently, Jameer Nelson missed the memo (somehow channeling Mike Bibby's end-of-game defense). He is playing five freaking feet off of Fisher as he approaches the three-point line!
As Fisher pulls up for a game-tying three, Nelson suddenly realizes how out of position he is and steps toward Fisher, nearly compounding his error by fouling him. Fisher's three goes up and in with 4.6 seconds left.
This is a fantastic play by Fisher, but Nelson's defense killed the Magic. KILLED THEM. In his defense, there is no way he should have been in the game anyway. (I refer you to my comments about SVG's loyalty above). I hope that was worth it, Stan.
I'm sure Magic fans understand that you put Nelson's desire to play over the best interests of your team.
Incredibly, the Magic still have a chance to win. 4.6 seconds remain, plenty of time to get a good look at a winning shot.
As Hedo tries to inbound, the Lakers switch on every Magic screen (and there are many going on at once). Kobe ends up under the rim guarding Howard.
The Magic, once again, fail to get him the ball, although in this case I credit the Laker defense, in particular Kobe. He is giving up about seven inches and maybe 100 pounds (of pure muscle) to Howard and somehow denies him ideal position.
This is a perfect example of how championship teams find a way to get critical stops when they absolutely, positively have to have them.
The Magic end up with a Pietrus runner that draws back rim, but never really had a chance.
On top of the Howard-Kobe mismatch, Rashard Lewis (an elite shooter) is standing open in the corner five feet from Pietrus as he forces his shot. Missed opportunities for the Magic, over and over.
Still, the game is tied and the Magic still have a chance.
4:34 Lewis makes a three with the clock winding down. 90-87 Magic.
3:32 Kobe makes back-to-back jumpers. 91-90 Lakers.
1:57 Kobe throws up an air-ball on a play where he had no intention of passing. The replay shows that Pietrus hit his hand.
1:27 Howard makes one of two from the line. 91-91, Lakers ball.
Kobe goes one-on-four and forces a shot. The Magic are so out of position from chasing Kobe that Gasol comes up with the rebound. Lakers call time-out.
Lakers isolate Kobe on the right side with Pietrus guarding. Kobe makes his move, draws a crowd, the fights against everything that makes him who he is and makes the right play by passing to a wide-open Fisher. Fisher drains a three from two feet behind the line with the shot clock at two. He did it again! INCONCEIVABLE! Lakers lead 94-91.
Hedo forces a three and misses. Howard gets a hand on the ball and tips it out to the arc. Unfortunately for the Magic, nobody rotated over when Hedo's shot went up, so Gasol collects the rebound and runs away from traffic and gets a run-out dunk. Lakers go up 99-91.
Another missed three from Orlando effectively ends the game. The Lakers close out and win 99-91.
There are some words and bumps between Gasol and Pietrus at the end, which is to be expected in such a heated contest.
The Lakers win a game for the ages and go up three games to one.
I've been watching sports long enough to know that anything can happen. That said, this series is over.
The Lakers are going to be NBA champions within the next six days. Even if Orlando can take game five, there is no way they are going back to L.A. and winning two more. It's just not going to happen. That's how I see it...
And that is how I saw it.