AP Photo/Matt Sayles
The Orlando Magic were within inches of leveling this series at 1-1. Inches of Courtney Lee’s layup dropping through at the buzzer in regulation. Inches within a Dwight Howard deflection of a Kobe pass to Gasol that resulted in the game-sealing three point play. Make no mistake, this was a game that could have gone either way. On a cold, rainy Queen’s Birthday Monday in Melbourne, here’s what went through my mind watching Game 2:
- Rashard Lewis had the biggest game of his career (just three assists short of a triple-double), Turkoglu hit shots and made plays all night, and Dwight, despite only taking 10 shots, still ended up with a phenomenal 17-16-4-4-4 statline. Unfortunately for the Magic, that’s where the good news ended – the rest of the team shot a horrific 8-31 including 1-12 from downtown. Only one other player scored more than 4 points; that was JJ Redick, and he scored 5. Across the board, the Magic’s contributions were incredibly lopsided towards their frontcourt, and that was the difference in this game: the Magic had three guys contributing on this night, the Lakers went at least six deep.
- What did we really learn from Game 2? That when at least a couple of Magic players are knocking down the three-ball, they can keep up with this Lakers team. In Game 1, no one shot well. Tonight it was Hedo and Rashard. You add Alston/Lee/Pietrus to that mix and you can start to see how Orlando might pull out a win back home.
- The Lakers again committed to doubling Dwight for most of the game. This worked well, caused a few turnovers, and put the pressure on Howard to make or break the game. Lewis and Turkoglu didn’t get hot because of Dwight’s passing out of the double tonight. Most of their points came on one-on-one plays, blown assignments from the Lakers, or crazy pull-up jumpers with defenders right in their grill. Like Kobe said after the game, the kind of shots Lewis and Turkoglu made that seem difficult to everyone else, aren’t difficult for those guys.
- Lamar Odom was incredible tonight and it was a minor tragedy that he didn’t get more than 9 shots. The way he was playing he could have ended up with 30 points, including the game-winner (more on that later). It could have been an epic career-defining game for Lamar. As it is, he’ll have to settle for just a great game. 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, brilliant help defense, two clutch free-throws and constant match up nightmares for Stan Van Gundy. A lot of people will look back to last year’s Finals and say “Wow… Lamar has really turned this thing around.. he’s finally playing with some fire”. Don’t mean to rain all over his parade tonight, but let’s not forget something right here. Lamar Odom is absolutely relishing the fact he’s playing against a team with a power-forward as soft as he is, with only one dominant inside player that he never has to guard, and a bench that is nowhere near as threatening as the Glen Davis / Leon Powe / PJ Brown three-headed monster that the Celtics served up last year. This is the perfect series for Lamar Odom, and he knows it.
- Kobe Bryant looked a little out of sorts tonight. Any one who reads this blog knows I’m a Kobe fan (at least when he’s not lining up against Detroit), but I’m also one of his harshest critics when I see him play badly, and tonight he made a few horrible plays that could have cost the Lakers the game. Firstly, worth mentioning that Kobe appeared to roll his ankle early in the game when he stepped on the ball. Doubt this affected him too much late in the game, but it did seem to slow him down early. Kobe spent a lot of time hovering on the perimeter around screens rather than looking to drive – if you look at his shot chart from the first half you’ll see nothing from the free-throw line down. Of course, Kobe clearly wasn’t looking for his shot too much, choosing to explode in the third quarter as he did in Game 1. But in the fourth he made three turnovers from bad passes, and at one point blamed Shannon Brown for not being where the pass was heading – hardly his fault. In OT there were two possessions where Kobe held the ball on the perimeter, did a few hesitation dribbles then jacked up a rubbish shot – they were tired, lazy looking shots when the game was in the balance. The real brain fade though, came on the last possession in regulation. Everyone knew Kobe wanted to take the shot, including the four Orlando defenders that collapsed on him. What did Kobe do? He tried to shoot it and got blocked from behind by Hedo Turkoglu (epic defensive play) when the correct options were:
- A) Pass it to a WIDE OPEN Lamar Odom standing ten feet away in the corner with his hands waving in the air, a guy who had missed only one shot all game, a guy who probably deserved having the fate of the game in his hands
- B) Pass it to a WIDE OPEN Trevor Ariza standing behind the three-point line on the other side of the court waving his hands in the air, a guy who has knocked down his fair share of big threes these playoffs
- C) Pass it to a WIDE OPEN Derek Fisher standing in the opposite corner, probably the most reliable pressure three-point shooter in the team other than Kobe.
- This was Kobe’s “John Paxson” moment. This was the chance to let one of his teammates step up to nail a game-winning shot in the Finals, to seal a level of trust that could have galvanized this team beyond belief, to symbolize the final maturation of the Mamba. The Lakers still won, but Kobe missed that chance. I wonder, if he finds himself in that situation again, would he make the same decision?
- The play Stan Van Gundy drew up for Courtney Lee was sheer genius. As Kobe said, it was “just a hell of a play by a hell of a coach.” It was genius for a few reasons. Firstly, Lee was obviously the last guy you expect to take that shot. The Lakers defense was geared towards preventing a Lewis catch-and-shoot or a Dwight Howard lob. There was also the threat of JJ Redick on the perimeter, and as a last resort, a shot by Courtney Lee. Secondly, Dwight moved all the way out to within a few feet of the three-point line, as did Lewis, leaving all the Lakers bigs too far away from the basket to adequately protect it. Thirdly, even though Kobe is guarding Lee, you know that’s not where his focus is. George Karl said himself, Kobe is probably the best help-defender in the league, and that means Kobe is always on the lookout to disrupt/deflect/pressure the opposition’s best players when his direct opponent is less of a target. Stan Van Gundy completely exploited Kobe’s own brilliant defensive tendencies – I cannot state enough how clever that is. If that play comes off, Van Gundy gets single-handedly credited for leveling the series and a million respect points from the fans who have constantly dissed him over the years. As it was the play just missed the mark, but major props to you Stan. You are truly the greatest pizza chef who has ever coached a basketball team.
- Machine on standby. You just wait, there will be one game in this series where Machine unleashes the full wrath of his long-range bombs and beautiful hair on the Orlando team. I don’t know when or where. But the Machine is coming…