The NBA's 2008/09 season ended Sunday night when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic, 99-86, to win their 15th NBA title. Finals MVP winner Kobe Bryant tallied 30 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocked shots to cap off a tremendous series, while the tandem of Pau Gasol (14 points, 15 rebounds, 4 blocks) and Lamar Odom (17 points, 10 rebounds) controlled the paint. Orlando shot 48% en route to jumping out to a 28-26 lead after one period, but the Lakers went on a 16-0 run in the middle of the second period, dealing the Magic a blow from which they could not recover. The middle periods were Orlando's undoing, as it shot 13-of-39 for 33 points and committed 10 turnovers as the Lakers took a 15-point lead into the final frame. Rashard Lewis led Orlando with 18 points and 10 boards, but shot just 6-of-19 from the field. In truth, no Magic player really delivered tonight, on either end of the court.
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Be it the cloudy skies or the unusual number of Lakers fans in attendance, but this game had a certain ominous feeling to it, as though Orlando was simply fated not to fare so well. Even after the first quarter, one got the sense it would not be the Magic's night. The Lakers were quicker to every loose ball and enjoyed a heathy, 16-11 advantage on the glass. Dwight Howard couldn't buy a free-throw attempt no matter how hard he got hit--this is not a dig at the officials, who "let the players play," so to speak, on both ends of the floor throughout the game--Lewis couldn't find the range, and Hedo Turkoglu didn't have any room to shoot as former Magic forward Trevor Ariza blanketed him better than anyone else I've ever seen; and yes, that includes noted Magic-killer Tayshaun Prince of the Detroit Pistons. As has been their wont, the Lakers left the Magic's iffy backcourt of Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston tee-off, a decision that worked out well for L.A. Lee had his finest game of the Finals offensively (12 points, 5-of-11 shooting, mostly good choices), but Alston clanked his fair share of open jumpers, doing his part to help the Lakers' defense and transition game.
Another word on that front, actually. Los Angeles held Orlando to worse than 100 points per 100 possessions in 4 of the 5 games in this series, winning each of those games. The one time the Magic's offense broke through, with 108 points in 82 possessions for an offensive rating of 132.0, the Lakers themselves popped off for 104 points. This is a team that, personnel-wise, has what it takes to contain the Magic. An example: With the outcome already sealed late in the fourth quarter, Lewis drove at Gasol, whom many people including myself believed could not adequately defend Lewis in this series. Gasol didn't let Lewis get the step on him, stuck with the Magic's star forward, and cleanly blocked his running J attempt. And throughout the game, he mustered the strength to force Howard into some poor looks, holding him to 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting, all-told. Impressive work by the supposedly "soft" Euro big man.
Orlando was simply helpless tonight offensively. Howard couldn't work inside, nobody could make a jump shot, and free throw attempts came at a premium. The Magic would have needed to play lock-down defense in order to win tonight, and that didn't happen. The Lakers have Orlando's double-team schemes all figured out, and moved the ball beautifully to find the open man on the perimeter, and in this way some of what they did offensively tonight resembled what the Magic are able to do against most defenses in this league. They made Orlando pay, with 8 treys in 16 attempts. But they didn't need the long-ball to stay in the game. Gasol and his array of post moves were too much for the Magic to handle, while Bryant hit some fairly well-defended two-pointers himself. The Lakers weren't exactly an offensive juggernaut tonight, but they nonetheless got the job done against what was the league's best defense during the regular season. Tonight's game--and hell, this entire series--is a case of one team simply bringing more to the court than the other one.
So, congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers for a well-earned victory tonight and in this series. And congratulations to the Orlando Magic for a fantastic season in which they exceeded everyone's expectations. It's been one heck of a season, and although it ended with a disappointing loss, no one can take away the Magic's overall achievements. As always, keep it tuned to 3QC throughout the summer for comprehensive Magic coverage.