ORLANDO, Fla. – Missing for two games, Orlando found its Magic touch.
Making easy shots and tough ones from everywhere, the Magic won their first game in two visits to the NBA Finals as Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis scored 21 points apiece in a 108-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 on Tuesday night to pull within 2-1.
Orlando shot a finals record 63 percent – including another record 75 percent in the first half – to snap a six-game finals losing streak and avoid falling into a 0-3 hole that 88 previous teams in postseason history have been unable to escape.
“Well, it was going in the basket. That always works,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “That formula’s always tried and true.”
In the series opener, the Magic couldn’t hit the Pacific Ocean, making only 29.9 percent and were blown out by 25 points. In Game 2, they were only slightly better, shooting 42 percent in an overtime loss. But back on their home court, where the baskets seem wider and more welcoming, the Magic shot their way back into this series.
As Shaquille O’Neal, still a presence long after leaving both franchises, posted on his Twitter page following the game: “By george I think we have a series.”
The Magic have a shot. No doubt.
Kobe Bryant, seeking a fourth title and his first since 2002, scored 31 points for the Lakers but the superstar had just 10 points in the second half and went only 4 of 15 from the field after the first quarter. He also missed five free throws, points that could have given the Lakers that 3-0 lead.
Game 4 is Thursday night, and Game 5 – now necessary – will be at Amway Arena on Sunday.
The Lakers, going for their 15th title and looking to redeem themselves for losing to Boston last season, have lost their stranglehold over the Magic.
“This is a tough team, not a cupcake team,” Bryant said. “Extremely well coached, execute well and we’ve got our work cut out.”
With their season 48 minutes from all but disappearing, the Magic, hosting their first finals game since 1995, had five players score at least 18 points. Rafer Alston, who was just 3 of 17 from the field in the first two games, had 20 and Hedo Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus 18 each.
“We lost two games, but there’s no need to roll over,” Howard said. “It’s a seven-game series. A team has to beat you four times to end the series and we felt good knowing that we had three games at home.”
Pau Gasol scored 23 points but had just three rebounds and the Lakers were only 16 of 26 from the line.
For a while, it appeared the Magic, who shot just 36 percent while dropping Games 1 and 2 at Staples Center, couldn’t or wouldn’t miss.
From 20 feet, swish. From 10 feet, nothing but net. Layups, runners, banks, pull-ups, didn’t matter. You name it, if it went up, more times than not it went in.
“We lost this game on the defensive end,” Bryant said. “We had been playing very good defense and the team tonight shoots 62 percent from the field.”
Orlando made 24 of 32 shots in the first half and only cooled off a little in the third quarter as it entered the fourth at a 65 percent clip and clinging to an 81-75 lead.
Bryant sat out the first 4:47 of the fourth, and when he finally subbed in, the Lakers were still down by five and unable to do anything to stop the Magic’s marksmanship.
But then, Orlando began to misfire at the worst time.
After Pietrus was long with a wide-open 3, Gasol was fouled at the other end and made two free throws to make it 99 all with 2:41 left. Orlando’s crowd, which waited 14 years for a chance to welcome the Larry O’Brien Trophy to town, grew nervous.
But Pietrus calmed fears by dunking in a rare miss to put the Magic up two, and when Lewis hit a jumper – it was originally called a 3 but replays showed his right foot was on the line – Orlando was up 104-101.
Howard was called for a questionable foul on a drive by Bryant, who then split his two free throws. When he went to the Lakers bench during a timeout that followed, Bryant hit himself in the head for letting two more valuable points slip away.
Orlando couldn’t capitalize, though, and the Lakers got the ball back when Lewis missed a baseline jumper and the rebound went off him and out of bounds.
Bryant, who scored 17 in the first quarter and 21 by halftime, then maybe tried to do too much. He crossed over to get past Pietrus, but Howard made like a point guard and tipped the ball away. Pietrus was fouled and made both to make it 106-102.
The Lakers became desperate. Instead of working the ball into Gasol or Lamar Odom, they shot from outside. They couldn’t shoot with the Magic.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson couldn’t find any fault with his team’s low rebounding total.
“What kind of rebounds are they going to get?” he said. “Making the amount of shots they made, there’s not a whole lot of rebounds to be had out there.”
Bryant missed a 3, Trevor Ariza misfired on one, Bryant clanged another and Derek Fisher was long as the Lakers went 0 for 4 on a possession where they had to have points. Bryant did score on a putback with .05 seconds left, but it was too late and although there was still time left, confetti began to fall to the court.
•Kings hire Westphal: The Sacramento Kings have reached an agreement in principle with Paul Westphal to be their next coach. Westphal, who has coached the Phoenix Suns and the Seattle SuperSonics, will replace interim coach Kenny Natt.