"I'll have you know this hairstyle is VERY COOL in Spain!"
The Orlando Magic: The Magic had every reason to win this game. They were at home. Their crowd was going gonzo. They dominated the first half. They even had freaking Hulkamania on their side. No, really!
Hulkamania was running wild in Orlando.
On top of all that, they even had an unthinkable 17-0 free throw advantage in the fourth quarter. (Mmmmm...home cookin'.) AND THEY LOST ANYWAY. Well, I guess if nobody ever pissed away a golden opportunity they might never get again, they wouldn't have anything to regret for the rest of their life. But don't worry, guys. I'm sure this loss won't haunt you forever. In the meantime, may I suggest a new team logo?
Hedo Turkoglu, Dwight Howard and the Curse of Nick Anderson: Eerily enough, flohtingPoint left this comment right before last night's game: "Nick Anderson on the floor getting the crowd hyped up? Chalk up an L for the Magic..."
Seriously, what were the Magic thinking?! Did the Red Sox import Bill Buckner when they were in the 2004 and 2007 World Series? Would the Buffalo Bills ever invite Scott Norwood to anything? (You also could substitute "Minnesota Vikings" and "Gary Anderson" in that last sentence.) Has the 1972 USA Olympic Basketball team ever had the officials from that controversial gold medal game over for dinner? OF COURSE NOT. The last thing a sports team should ever do is associate itself with the symbol (or symbols) of its greatest failure. But that's what the Magic did last night. Maybe you don't believe in superstition, but I do, at least where sports are involved. And Nick the Brick's very presence spelled doom for his former team.
The Magicians bricked 15 free throws. Dwight Howard was responsible for eight of those misses (he was 6-for-14 on the night). Hedo Turkoglu -- a career 80 percent foul shooter -- bonked five (he went 8-for-13). Remember that 17-0 fourth-quarter FTA advantage I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago? Well, Orlando converted only 10 of them. Hedo went 3-for-7 in the fourth, including one 0-for-2 trip with 5:06 left in the quarter when his team was down 77-74. And after each miss, Turkoglu had the same angsty expression that was plastered on his face during Game 6 and Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
But the two biggest misses came from the biggest man on the floor: Dwight Howard. Superman had a pretty super game (16 points, 21 boards and an NBA Finals record 9 blocked shots). But with 11 ticks left in regulation and the Magic ahead 87-84, Howard bonked the two biggest free throws of his young life. Despite the boner, Dwight tried to stay positive afterward: "I just missed them. I've been working on my free throws. They just weren't falling tonight. There's no need to get down on myself. I think I did a lot of good things tonight, just my free throws weren't there."
Still, J.J. Redick insinuated that Dwight's brave face was a bit of an act. "How would you feel? Pretty bad, right? He's obviously upset. It's a disappointing way to lose -- 11 seconds, up three with two free throws. You at least feel you're going to get another trip to the free throw line because they have to foul. End up losing in overtime."
Whatever the case, the end result was still the same. Instead of making it a two-possession game, Dwight gave the Lakers a chance to tie the game. Which is exactly what they did, thanks to...
Stan Van Gundy: As soon as L.A. called timeout, I said to myself, "The Magic have to foul here. They HAVE to. Make the Lakers shoot two free throws and then force them into a battle at the line." It was the best possible solution, regardless of Dwight and Hedo's misses. (In my free throw battle scenario, Howard would have been watching from the sidelines.) However, instead of instructing his team to foul, Stan had them trap Kobe in the backcourt. (Ironically, Phil Jackson had his team inbound there to avoid a foul.) Unfortunately, the ball eventually went to Derek Fisher (which, given Jackson's love of using his stars as decoys, was probably the plan to begin with), who sank the game-tying three over Jameer Nelson.
Almost as painful as Van Gundy's decision not to foul was Nelson's defense on Fisher's triple. Stunningly, he was playing OFF of Fish. Why would anybody step behind the three-point line in a situation like that? Why? WHY?! Nelson even admitted afterward: "I should have pushed up on him a little more." Uh, ya think?!
Anyway, when asked about his decision not to foul, Van Gundy said: "That one will haunt me forever. It was my decision with 11 seconds not to foul. Yes I regret it now, but only in retrospect. I mean, normally to me 11 is too early. You foul, they make two free throws, [they] cut it to one [and] you're still at six or seven seconds." And regarding Nelson's defense on Fisher's shot: "In retrospect we gave [Fisher] too much space to shoot the ball. We played like we were trying to prevent the layup. We just didn't play Fisher, just didn't guard him."
Meanwhile, his players were mum on their coach's "don't foul" decision. Rashard Lewis -- who scored only 6 points and had more turnovers (3) than field goals (2) -- said: "I'm not the coach. I was out there trying to win the ballgame." (Really, Rashard? Really? Did you happen to see your line in the box score?) Marcin Gortat (4 points and 2 boards in 4:15 worth of PT) added: "You'll have to ask coach about this." Gortat did offer that in European ball they usually foul.
Beyond that one play, Van Gundy once again yanked his players around, using Courtney Lee for only 7 minutes and exiling Rafer Alston to the bench for the entire fourth quarter as well as overtime. Meanwhile, Nelson (2 points, 1-for-3, 3 assists) played 26 minutes.
Update! Rashard Lewis: I alluded to his 2-for-10 stinkbomb above, but Wild Yams had this to add: "BTW, a play that happened near the end of regulation seems to be getting overlooked a bit considering everything that followed it, but Rashard Lewis should probably get mentioned in today's Worst Of when that goes up for not only scoring just 6 points last night, but for missing a wide open jump shot with the Magic up 5 with 39 seconds left. If he'd hit that, it's almost impossible to imagine that the Lakers could have come back from down 7 with less than 40 seconds to go. But he bricked it, and it led to Kobe with that incredible dish in traffic to Gasol for the dunk, and suddenly it was only a 3-point game with 31 seconds to play. IMO, that Rashard miss was as big as any of the other plays that happened in the last six minutes of the game. When you have a $118 million contract, that's a shot you need to hit."
Dwight Howard's butter fingers: Almost as damaging as the missed free throws was Howard's carelessness with the rock. Too often Dwight keeps the ball at his waist, both during post moves and after hauling down rebounds. Kevin McHale always used to hold the ball high above his head to keep defenders (especially opposing guards) from swiping the ball away. Howard needs to learn that lesson, because he had a game-high 7 turnovers...which equaled the output of the entire Lakers squad. It wasn't all Dwight, of course. The Magic had 19 turnovers as a team, which resulted in 16 bonus points for L.A. But nonetheless, last night Dwight both gaveth and had it taken away.
Update! More on Dwight's bumble-itis from AnacondaHL: "Fun stat of the night: Here's a short list of everyone who's posted 9 blocks in a playoffs game (since 1991). Notice Howard's 16/21/9 with a historical high 7 TOs last night is the only loss. Even Ostertag's amazing 0/10/9 box score resulted in a win. Historic fail."
Kobe Bryant's shot selection: The end result looks awfully good: 32 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and one win away from his fourth NBA title. But make no mistake: Kobe very nearly shot his team to another loss. Mamba took 31 shots, including 27 jumpers...of which he hit 10. (He was 1-for-4 on layups.) He was once again brilliant in the first quarter (4-for-7), then cooled off dramatically in the second (1-for-5), third (2-for-6) and fourth (2-for-8). And many of those attempts were NOT good shots. I mean, they would have had guys groaning in disgust in a pickup game. Only one of his five second-quarter attempts were inside 20 feet. In the third, he took two shots from 17 feet, one from 25 feet and another from 27 feet. He did take three shots in the paint during the fourth, but he also chucked it up from 19 feet, 21 feet, 27 feet and 28 feet. Honestly, he owes a lot of thanks to Fisher and Trevor Ariza (who was 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and made several key hustle plays). Speaking of which...
Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith: So, Otis, I have to ask: How's that Trevor Ariza for Brian Cook trade working out for you guys? There's no way Smith possibly could have known he was arming a future Finals opponent with a key (and, really, indispensible in this series) role player. But still.
Update! Lacktion Report: Chris dutifully reported...I just forgot to cut and past. My bad. "Shannon Brown cashed in a 1.65 trillion downstream commission at Amway Arena, highlighting his continued work as one of Phil Jackson's human victory cigars. Any more of this and he might win the Damon Jones Award by default...meanwhile, Orlando's Tony Battie made one field goal in 11:40, but fouled twice and gave up the rock once for a 3:2 Voskuhl."