With the chances of Orlando winning the title all but gone after their Game Four meltdown, Game Five was all about the heart of the participants involved.
Would the Magic have the will to take yet another cannonball to the gut and keep on fighting? Would the Lakers play complacently, knowing that a loss might allow them to celebrate their championship in front of their home court fans?
Behind scintillating performances from nearly everyone on the roster, the Lakers proved the sole motive in their 99-86 victory was to take care of business as ruthlessly and efficiently as possible.
After four games of taking Orlando’s temperature, the Lakers dropped the hammer on the Magic offense. Screen/rolls involving Hedo Turkoglu were nullified by Trevor Ariza, who kept himself between Turkoglu and the screener.
While Turkoglu did connect on a few tough layups and patented step-backs going left, his offense was scattered and he never led a cohesive offensive charge.
The turning point showing difference in how badly each team wanted the win came after an Ariza-Turkoglu confrontation in the second quarter.
Sandwiched between a brief confrontation between the two that led to double technicals, Ariza dominated Turkoglu.
- After Kobe Bryant started his move on the right elbow, Turkoglu shifted over to provide help and was not nearly in time closing out to Ariza to prevent him from nailing his second three of the quarter.
- On the next Magic possession, Ariza proceeded to blow right through a Dwight Howard screen, preventing Turkoglu from gaining separation. Turkoglu had to give the ball up and the Magic didn’t score.
- Later in the quarter, Turkoglu got stuck on the baseline with Lamar Odom glued to him. Turkoglu was forced to try and give the ball up, but his entry pass to Howard was well defended and stolen by Ariza.
- After Rashard Lewis was doubled on the wing, he tried to get the ball to Turkoglu, but his pass was errant. Ariza stole it, and earned himself a trip to the line, making a free throw.
- Turkoglu was supposed to free himself off a Lewis down-screen at the top of the key to receive a pass, but Ariza prevented Turkoglu from gaining separation. He tripped on Lewis and fell to the floor, yet Rafer Alston's recovery pass was stolen by Ariza.
Ariza’s domination of Turkoglu helped fuel the 16-0 run that gave the Lakers a lead they’d never relinquish.
Orlando’s other money play of using screen/rolls to free up Howard at the basket never materialized either because of Howard’s complete inability to finish around the rim.
To compound matters, Lewis was another no-show, shooting only 6-for-19 in the game, with eight of his 18 points coming in garbage time.
When the Magic needed them the most, Howard and Lewis responded with their two most dismal performances of the season.
On the defensive end, the Lakers constantly attacked Howard, suckering him to the ball before dish-offs or missed layups would free teammates up for easy shots around the rim.
Even though Howard had 10 rebounds, he couldn’t keep the Lakers from crashing the boards for 14 offensive retrievals.
Also, in giving Andrew Bynum 11 shot attempts early in the game—even if he only hit three of them—the Lakers let Howard know they were attacking him directly, putting added pressure on him to stop L.A.
However, Howard played as if he were embarrassed by his Game Four free throw blundering and wanted no part of the task of rescuing Orlando’s season, spending less time finishing around the rim than hanging his head and making frustrated gestures.
And Lewis was finally faced with defenders who had length and quickness, so he tucked himself away and became little more than a blank-firing bomber.
Their performances at home in back-to-back games displayed a lack of maturity and confidence in their abilities to perform on the highest stage.
When the Lakers didn’t believe in Howard’s Superman costume, he tucked into his Clark Kent outfit and checked out. When the Lakers made it an emphasis to not leave Lewis open on the perimeter, he checked out too.
There were other goats as well.
Rafer Alston made bad decisions throughout the series, like passing up a wide open three-pointer or step-in jumper to tentatively drive and force a pass to Howard, which was easily broken up.
Courtney Lee has no more lunch money after what Kobe Bryant did to him throughout the series.
Tony Battie played soft and wasn’t a presence during his rotation.
The only boys in blue who played well when the game was up for grabs were Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus, but they’re only bit players and aren’t responsible for carrying teams to victory—at least not in Finals elimination games.
Looks like the pundits were right about Orlando all along: Three-point shooting teams die in the playoffs.
As for the Lakers, with each passing series, L.A. played more cohesively and with more mental focus.
Now, properly tuned and always superiorly talented, the Lakers trusted themselves in tight games and no longer took their foot off the gas pedal when they thought they could afford to.
Instead, they played Game Five with the combination of freedom and intensity that characterizes Phil Jackson-coached teams.
Kobe Bryant mixed more drives and post-ups early with his lethal shooting and was spectacular: 10-23 FG, 2-5 3FG, 8-8 FT, 6 REB, 5 AST, 1 TO, 30 PTS.
Included in Bryant point-making highlight reel was a drive left in which he cradled the ball through a double-team, showed the ball at a rotating Howard with one hand, gathered the ball again, then released an incredible banked layup.
When doubled, Bryant made the simple pass, usually leading to wide open three-pointers on the strong side for Ariza, or via ball movement to the corner for Lamar Odom.
Passes Bryant wouldn't have made when Smush Parker and Slava Medvedenko were his teammates led to open threes all series, finally putting to rest the tired notion that he’s selfish beyond repair.
Derek Fisher took advantage of Alston—taking an awful angle, fighting through a screen—and Howard, attempting to block a jumper during which Fisher never even pump-faked, to convert a pair of tough layups at the basket.
And when open, Fisher did as Fisher does and knocked down his jumpers.
Lamar Odom shot the ball with confidence, going 3-for-3, and channeled Julius Erving with a hanging, one-handed reverse layup off the backboard.
Pau Gasol was brilliant in his supporting role. Spinning hooks, offensive rebounds, post passes, blocked shots—Gasol did the little bit of the things he always does: 6-9 FG, 15 REB, 3 AST, 4 BLK, 14 PTS.
The Lakers challenged every catch, rotated beautifully, and took away the strengths of Orlando’s best players. In other words, they were extremely well-coached.
So after last year’s frustration against Boston, the constant rumors surrounding Bryant’s inability to win without Shaquille O’Neal, the characterizations of being too soft both mentally and physically, the Lakers have their ring.