Orlando 75, LA Lakers 100
Lakers lead series 1-0
Wow. Could that have gone any better? Literally everyone played well, from Kobe and Pau anchoring the line-up to Josh Powell nailing a three at the final buzzer. And oh yeah, we showed up defensively too, holding them to under 30% shooting and limiting Dwight Howard to one single solitary field goal. Yes, you read that right. Superman scored one bucket in 35 minutes of play. He also added 10 free throws for a grand total of 12 points. Orlando’s leading scorer for the night was sixth man Mickael Pietrus with 14 points. Turkoglu was a dismal 3-for-11 for 13 points, and Rashard Lewis was even worse at 2-for-10 and 8 points. Can you say ouch?
In a game like this, there are obviously a number of factors at work in our favor, but in my mind it once again came down to Phil and Kobe. Kobe and Phil. In whatever order you want, they are the reason for the season. In terms of game-planning, I don’t think they could have scouted this Magic team any better. They were prepared for every move they made, and at every step, there was a Laker defender waiting for them before they could get into rhythm. Even throwing Jameer Nelson into the game in the second quarter only shook them up for a few minutes before they adjusted and put the clamps down on them for good. All those supposed mismatches that were going to work in Orlando’s favor were nowhere to be seen and instead swung our way tonight, from Pau sweeping the floor with Lewis to Kobe brutalizing whoever was guarding him. Courtney Lee may have had a very good season and post-season so far, but that is done now as he is easy pickings for Kobe at this point.
And Kobe did indeed pick him apart. He put up 40 points for the first time in his Finals career, and had the game been a little closer he would probably have picked up enough minutes to complete the triple-double he was closing in on. It wasn’t all Lee’s fault. Kobe spent much of his time destroying Mickael Pietrus, as well as anyone else they threw at him, willing his team to a game 1 victory. When Orlando briefly opened up a 5-point lead after inserting Nelson in the second quarter, Kobe came back in to stabilize the situation. He led the guys on a 10-0 run, reclaiming the lead for the Lakers and sending them into halftime with a 10-point lead. He came out in the third all guns blazing, getting into one of those zones where the Marvel Ultimate Alliance couldn’t have kept up with him. He tore the Magic apart on the pick and roll: when they went underneath, he pulled up for the J; when they crowded him, he sliced and diced his way through them on his way to the hoop; and when they cut off all his options, he somehow found a way to make the basket anyway, often with the opportunity for an and one after the fact. It was simply incredible, but only in a completely typical Kobe Bryant fashion. We have come to expect as much over the years, and he didn’t disappoint.
Then there was the supporting cast, all of whom played their roles to a tee. Pau was solid all around, looking anything but soft around the rim as he battled with Howard, jockeying for position in the post, crowding him off the spot, and generally swarming the whole Magic team around the basket. His length made things difficult for Orlando all night long, deflecting balls and contesting shots in the lane. Our other 7-footer had a good, if brief, performance tonight as well. Phil had them looking for Bynum early in the game, and he responded with aggression on the block and good defensive effort against Howard. He did pick up his customary two first quarter fouls, but only after he had knocked down a shot or two and doing his part to prevent any Superman dunks. Odom was aggressive as well and was our third player in double-figures with 11 and a hard-working 14 rebounds. Fisher didn’t have a huge role to play, but he had some early buckets that helped set the tone as well. Luke Walton had a helluva game as well, picking up 9 points on 4-for-5 shooting in 24 minutes. He was his typical savvy self, reading what the defense was giving him and knowing when to play his advantage and take it to the hole. He had three straight baskets at one point to help stretch the lead, and it was more of Doug Collins’ “found money” for us.
Only Ariza was slightly off-kilter, but it didn’t last too long. It may have been the anxiety over playing against his old team, but for whatever reason he looked full of jitters in the first quarter. He was over-pursuing on defense and generally looked rushed on the floor. Phil did well to sit him down for a while in favor of Luke, who gave us some great minutes and allowed Trevor to settle himself down for the second half. I don’t expect him to have that same problem going forward in the series.
It’s tough to extrapolate too much from this game because, as they say, it’s just one game. Whether you win by 20 or you win by 1, you’re still just up 1-0 and need three more wins to close it out. What you can be assured of is that the Magic will come back with a much better effort in the next game and are not likely to shoot so poorly again in this series. Obviously, the Lakers present much different match-up problems than they were accustomed to playing against on their road to the Finals through the East, and with as good a coach as SVG, they are sure to rebound. And for as much credit as I give our defense tonight – specifically in the ability to play Howard straight up without committing extra defenders and not allowing him any easy looks – the Magic simply missed shots. On other nights, those shots are going to be falling and we’ll have to find a way to respond. The margin of victory suggests that we have some wiggle room there, but I don’t think there is a Lakers fan out there who isn’t a little worried about our consistency. That said, after witnessing Kobe’s display both during the game and afterward, I don’t think he’s going to allow us to lose. He just wants it too much and is too dangerous to be stopped by anyone the Magic can put on him. Couple that with the fact that he never has to guard a primary offensive option and you have a formula for a dominant series for #24 and likely for Lakers success. Look for us to hold court in game 2 as well.