Lakers-Magic: Los Angeles One Win Away from 15th NBA Title
The Los Angeles Lakers are now one game away from the 15th NBA title in franchise history after a thrilling 99-91 OT comeback victory in Game Four of the NBA Finals that put the Orlando Magic on the brink of elimination in a 3-1 series hole.
The Lakers could not play defense without fouling in the first half, and the Magic took advantage.
But Orlando's perimeter shooting would be strongly affected by the return of the Lakers' defense in the second half.
After the Magic set NBA records for all-time Finals shooting percentages in Game Three, they appeared tight in Game Four missing several wide open jump shots en route to shooting just 41.9 percent.
Trailing by 12 points at the halfway mark, the Lakers got a much needed boost from the unproven hand of fourth-year forward Trevor Ariza (16 pts, 9 rebs, 2 asts, 2 stls) to get back in the game.
In the pivotal third period, Ariza caught fire, scoring a baker's dozen on a pair of three-pointers, a dunk, a layup, a running jump shot and three out of four free-throw attempts. He also had a steal and two rebounds, helping the Lakers to impose their will and forge ahead.
The Lakers outscored the Magic 30-14 in the quarter and took a 67-63 lead into the final period of regulation that set the stage for the spectacular finish and eventual overtime session.
Orlando was also handcuffed by 15 missed opportunities at the free-throw line and 19 turnovers, which contributed significantly to their woes.
The Magic's superman of a center, Dwight Howard, had a huge night scoring 16 points, grabbing 21 rebounds and swatting a NBA Finals-record nine blocks, but he was also responsible for more than half of the team's misses at the line with eight and he also had seven crucial turnovers.
Howard tossed his two biggest bricks of the night in the final seconds of regulation with his team ahead by three. Had he made one of them, the Magic could have iced the game, but instead allowed L.A. to breathe one final breathe of life.
Enter Laker guard Derek Fisher.
Fisher's playoff resume is riddled with big shots to win games for the purple and gold but to rise to the occasion with the pressure on then calmly swish a desperation three-pointer with 4.6 remaining to tie the game, takes the heart of a champion. He was 0-for-5 from deep before hitting the basket that ultimately swung the momentum to the Lakers for good.
When Mickael Pietrus' last second off-balanced fling clanged off the rim and the regulation clock expired the teams headed to overtime, well at least the Lakers did, not so sure where the Magic went to play for the final five minute frame.
Rashard "sweet Lou" Lewis (6 pts, 7 rebs, 4 asts, 2 stls) invisible for most of the game stroked a huge three pointer off an assist from Turkoglu to start overtime and Orlando appeared to regain their sea legs taking the early lead 90-87. But, the Magic would only score one more point for the remainder of the game.
The Lakers used a surgeon's precision on their offensive possessions to stay close and ultimately win the game. On back to back drives Kobe took what the Orlando defense gave him and he stroked back to back jump shots to give L. A. a one point lead at 91-90.
After D. Howard went 1-for-2 at the line to tie the game at 91, the Lakers were again able to reach into their Fisher basket for another clutch three.
With 31.3 seconds remaining, Kobe and the Lakers executed the triangle offense to perfection. Bryant (32 pts, 8 asts, 8-8 FTs) drew a crowd of Orlando defenders, then, after clearing out Jameer Nelson with an inadvertent elbow to the kisser, he looked left and was able to find a wide-open Fisher at the top of the key, who drained his second three-pointer of the game for a 94-91 Lakers lead that they would never relinquish.
This Orlando Magic team has been written off for dead many times before throughout the regular season and playoffs, but barring a total collapse from the Lakers they won't be making any miracles happen or writing any new chapters in history ,even if they are able to force a return trip to L. A. with a victory in Game Five.
No team has ever come back to win a series in the finals after going down 3-1 in league history and the Lakers now stand on the cusp of regaining their rightful place atop the NBA.
With one more win Kobe will win his fourth title and make his most definitive statement as a player, proving once and for all that he is deserving of being considered among the best of all time.
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