Pau Gasol defends Dwight Howard the only way he knows how to: by flopping.
Photo by Fernando Medina, NBAE/Getty Images
On the first possession of the game, Dwight Howard got position on the right block, posted-up Pau Gasol, and went around him for a layup. Gasol offered no resistance. A minute later, Howard again posted-up Gasol, this time on the left block. Gasol flopped egregiously as Howard made his move, and got the benefit of the whistle, as he would all night. In one unbelievable, second-quarter sequence, Gasol flopped while Howard posted him up, forcing the turnover. On the ensuing Laker possession, Gasol himself posted up Howard, dribbled, and flailed his arms wildly when he felt Howard's forearm on his lower back. Howard was called for the foul. Thank you, Pau Gasol: You've taught me that it is indeed possible to flop while dribbling.
Still, we can't sweat the poor officiating in this one. In spite of it, we had plenty of chances to win in the end.
Point-blank: we did not deserve to win last night.
Sure, we played hard. But no team that turns an 11-point lead after one quarter into a 1-point deficit at halftime, battles back to give itself a chance in the closing minutes, then misses its last five shots of the game can legitimately say, "We deserved this one." No team can hope to succeed in the playoffs when it executes so poorly down the stretch. Let's set the scene:
The Magic took the lead, 112-111, on two Hedo Turkoglu free throws with 1:37 to play. On Los Angeles' next possession, Keith Bogans forced Kobe Bryant into taking a contested 17-footer, which he missed. Rashard Lewis rebounded for Orlando.
That's when it got ugly.
- On the ensuing possession, Turkoglu hoisted a three-pointer with 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock. I understand wanting to go for the dagger in front of the home crowd, but that was a poor idea with that much time on the shot clock and the team clinging to a one-point lead. Gasol rebounded and outlet the ball to Bryant, whom Turkoglu fouled. Bryant converted the free throws to give the Lakers a one-point lead.
- After two Orlando 20-second timeouts (one to set-up a play, the other to preserve possession after Turkoglu caught the inbounds pass and tripped), Jameer Nelson missed a step-back 18-footer with 14 seconds on the shot clock. That's too early to shoot. Bryant rebounded and the Lakers scored when Howard goaltended a Lamar Odom jumper.
- Keith Bogans missed a layup. The ball bounced out-of-bounds off a Laker player and the Magic call their final timeout.
- Rashard Lewis has his catch-and-shoot three-pointer from the right corner partially blocked by Lamar Odom. Bryant rebounded, Jameer Nelson had no choice but to foul him. Kobe made two free throws as Lakers fans in attendance chanted "M-V-P! M-V-P!" The Lakers lead, 117-112, with 14 second remaining. Game (effectively) over.
I give our guys a lot of credit for fighting back. The game looked really out of reach there late in the third quarter, but we steadily chipped-away at the Lakers' lead and put ourselves in decent position to win the game, only to take ill-advised shots. Note that Dwight Howard had 0 attempts in crunch time, even though he was 8-of-8 from the field. Stan Van Gundy said after the game he told his players to get Dwight the ball, but for whatever reason, they didn't. He defended his players by adding that it's easy for him to say, "Get Dwight the ball!" from the sidelines when he doesn't have a guy like Lamar Odom or Kobe Bryant standing right in front of him.
After the game, I turned to my dad and said, "That's vintage Orlando Magic basketball right there."
- J.J. Redick exchanged pleasantries with the Lakers' Sasha Vujacic after Vujacic fouled him late in the second quarter. Bryant had to step between the two players, who each earned technical fouls. Redick vs. Vujacic might be the least exciting fight in NBA history.
- Pat Garrity was booed when he checked into the game late in the second quarter. During the 38 seconds he played, the Lakers "defended" him with Derek Fisher, who is 6'1". Jameer Nelson had to contend with 6'10" Vladimir Radmanovic guarding him around the perimeter.
- Adonal Foyle picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter. With Howard already sitting with five fouls, and with no other center active, Stan Van Gundy had no choice but to insert J.J. Redick into the lineup. Redick joined Jameer Nelson, Maurice Evans, Rashard Lewis, and Brian Cook on the floor. Indeed, Brian Cook played center for this brief stretch, and was called upon to defend Pau Gasol.
- Put another notch in your belt, Carlos Arroyo fans; the Magic lost a game in which Nelson started while Arroyo received a DNP-CD. Feel free to ignore the fact that Nelson played well (17 points, 7-of-15 shooting, 9 assists, 0 turnovers), or that Los Angeles is a damn good team, or that Howard and Turkoglu were in foul trouble for the entire game, or that Arroyo laid an egg Wednesday against New Jersey.