Pushed to Overtime, Lakers Escape, Take 2-0 Finals Lead
Monday, June 8, 2009
LOS ANGELES, June 7 -- Kobe Bryant looked over his shoulder and Orlando Magic rookie Courtney Lee was already long gone, leaping into the air to catch Hedo Turkoglu's lob pass with six-tenths of a second remaining in regulation of Game 2 of the NBA Finals. As Lee rushed an underhanded scoop shot, all Bryant could do was curse. But when his shot bounded hard off the backboard and rimmed out, Lee lifted his hands upon his head, his pained grimace hidden by the plastic mask on his face. Bryant and his teammates felt relief.
Lee's potential game-winning shot simply set up another five minutes of basketball -- and gave the Los Angeles Lakers the opportunity to pull out a 101-96 overtime victory at Staples Center and take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.
"Honestly, it was a brilliant play," Bryant said. "It was a very, very smart play. I don't think we dodged a bullet. I think they played extremely well and we played well enough to win."
There would be no repeat of the 25-point blowout in the opener, no spectacular one-man show from Bryant, and no gruesome shooting performances from every member of the Magic. For the Lakers to move another step closer to claiming the franchise's 15th NBA championship, they needed some clutch free throw shooting from mop-haired Spaniard Pau Gasol, two huge steals from Derek Fisher, and another solid outing from reserve forward Lamar Odom.
Bryant scored a team-high 29 points, but it was Gasol who carried the Lakers in overtime, scoring seven of his 24 points, including a three-point play that gave the Lakers a six-point lead with 1 minute 14 seconds remaining. Gasol also added a team-high 10 rebounds.
"There is a sense of relief because they played very well," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "We just drove ourselves through the game. I didn't think Kobe had a good game at all as far as his standards go. We were able to find other guys that did things for us."
Game 3 is Tuesday at Orlando's Amway Arena, where the Magic has won its past four games. It now faces the daunting task of taking four of the next five games to win a championship. Only three teams have ever come back from an 0-2 deficit to win in the NBA Finals. "We definitely wanted to get this win, take home-court advantage back to Orlando," Magic forward Rashard Lewis said after scoring a game-high 34 points. "But it didn't happen. The Lakers are 2-0 and we have to go home and take care of home just like they took care of home."
The Magic looked overwhelmed and overmatched in Game 1, but it was determined to show that it is still the same team that stole a game against the Lakers in this arena earlier this season knocked off the defending champion Boston Celtics and the 66-win Cleveland Cavaliers this postseason.
Dwight Howard had been held to just one field goal in the opener, but he had 17 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots on Sunday. He gave the Magic a 91-90 lead when he converted a three-point play, but Lakers scored the next seven points. Bryant hit a pull-up jump shot over Turkoglu, then Fisher (12 points, three steals) deflected a J.J. Redick pass, dribbled the length of the floor and hit two free throws after getting fouled by Turkoglu. Then, Bryant and Gasol noticed an opening, shared what they saw in Spanish and Bryant hit Gasol inside for a short hook in the lane. He made the free throw after getting fouled by Magic point guard Rafer Alston.
The Magic closed within 99-96 on Lewis's sixth three-pointer of the game with 26 seconds remaining.
Odom (19 points) then sealed the victory from the foul line. Odom played 45 minutes, with starting center Andrew Bynum in foul trouble, and scored in double figures for the fourth consecutive game, connecting on 8 of 9 from the floor.
"We wanted to win this game just to keep the pressure on them," Odom said. "Both teams want this. But we still have to take care of business."
Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy tinkered with his lineup all night, going one stretch in the first half with a lineup that featured two centers (Howard and Marcin Gortat) and two 6-foot-10 forwards (Turkoglu and Lewis) with Alston at point guard. He even went the final nine minutes of the fourth period without a point guard, benching Alston and Jameer Nelson and letting Turkoglu run the offense.
"The bottom line is we tried some different things," Van Gundy said. "I will say this: I'm not sure I got another lineup to throw out there that you haven't seen. We've played conventionally. We've played big. We've played with no point guard. What do they say, 'just keep throwing stuff at the wall and hope something sticks?' "
The Magic had 20 turnovers, including three in overtime, but is still smarting over allowing the game to go an extra frame. Redick tied the game at 84 with a three-pointer, and after Lewis and Bryant exchanged difficult bank shots, Turkoglu drained a long jumper with 47.7 seconds remaining to give Orlando an 88-86 lead. The Lakers tied the game at 88 on a Gasol layup.
After a broken offensive sequence that concluded with Lee missing a driving layup, Odom then dribbled the ball up the court and passed it off to Bryant with 10.9 seconds left. Bryant drove inside, then Turkoglu came from behind to block Bryant's shot and secure the rebound with 0.6 seconds left.
Van Gundy designed the lob play for Lee after the Lakers forced Orlando into calling timeout. It was nearly executed to perfection.
"I tried to get it up there as quick as possible, and the ball rolled off the rim," Lee said. "You sit and groan about it just for a moment, but you still have another five minutes to go. We didn't lose the game just because I missed the layup. We just could've won the game."