In a 100-75 blowout, the Los Angeles Lakers jumped all over the Orlando Magic to take control of the 2009 NBA Finals. The score might as well have been 1000-7, though. Kobe Bryant had the best game of his NBA Finals career, with 40 points on 16-of-34 shooting to lead all scorers. As Zach Harper of talkhoops noted on Twitter, Bryant had more field goals in the second and third quarters (11) than the entire Magic team did (10). He was, despite the scoring, not the only reason the Lakers won this game. Their defense held Orlando to 29.9% shooting from the field--the worst Finals Game 1 shooting performance of the shot-clock era-- and limited Dwight Howard to 1 field goal in 6 attempts. Their 55-41 edge on the boards helped keep the ball out of the Magic's hands, either by ending Orlando's possessions after 1 miss with a defensive rebound or by prolonging their own with an offensive rebound. From top to bottom, every Laker played great, and Orlando must improve in every facet of the game if it hopes to muster a comeback in the series.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
There are just so many hideous statistics I can point out from this game. The Magic and the Lakers, for instance, each had 3 players in double figures. However, the Magic's three leading scorers--that'd be Mickael Pietrus with 14 off the bench, Hedo Turkoglu with 13, and Howard with 12--managed to combine for 39 points, which is one short of what Bryant produced himself. It's not just the stats, though, which is why I'm going to try to limit my use of them (ha!) for much of this recap. One need not look at them to understand or to prove the Lakers' utter dominance tonight. It manifested itself in essentially every play made in the game, on either end of the floor, after the first quarter. Orlando led, 24-22, after one period, for what it's worth.
I tend not to buy any hype about how some teams "want it more," while others are "happy to be here," and that's why the games play themselves out. Both the Magic and the Lakers are worthy combatants for the NBA title, and both want to win. Heart, desire, other intangibles really don't matter here. Kobe did not score 40 because he wanted it more, or because he's a born winner, etc. Kobe scored 40 because he played intelligently, took good shots against reasonably good defense from Pietrus and Courtney Lee, and converted them. The Magic didn't shoot 30% because they were satisfied just to reach the Finals, or because they have stage fright, but because the Lakers contested almost every shot quickly and intellgently. Sure, Orlando had some offensive lapses, but those in and of itself are not unique to the Finals. The Magic failed to execute in the first game of the season, a 14-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks at home. But here, at the NBA Finals, the highest level of basketball competition in the world, nobody can afford to make those mistakes. Work the pick-and-roll more diligently, find more open looks, convert them... and maybe this game is closer. But, in a 25-point game, it's hard just to point at one thing and say, "well, if the losing team did that better, they'd have won."
There are a lot of things for coach Stan Van Gundy to sort out in the next two days. He'll certainly be busy. There's the issue of finding better--but not necessarily more--touches for Dwight Howard. Decry his getting only 6 shot attempts all you like, but he still shot 16 free throws and committed 2 turnovers. He had his share of touches. And the defense definitely needs work, particularly on the interior. Odd as it sounds in a game in which they only mustered 75 points, their defensive effort and intensity might be the bigger problem than their offense. Consider that the Magic were +6 on free throws and +15 on three-pointers. That means the Lakers outscored them on two-pointers by a staggering 46 points. Orlando had no answer for Los Angeles' high-low game with any combination of bigs, but especially when Pau Gasol played center with Lamar Odom at power forward. Too many open looks under the hoop.
Individual matchups are also a concern--what isn't a concern on defense for Orlando right now?--as Lee could not stop Luke Walton from scoring inside. With Lee and Pietrus on the floor at the same time, at shooting guard and small forward, respectively, the Magic used Pietrus to defend Bryant and Lee to defend Walton. Perhaps on paper, this matchup skews heavily in Lee's favor. However, that paper may not account for Walton's 3-inch, 35-pound size advantage on Lee, which is how he simply muscled through him for 3 baskets during that span. Overall, Walton shot 4-of-5 for 9 points. Yes, Luke Walton hit four times as many field goals as Dwight Howard did. It's no wonder why Orlando lost by 25.
Given the way this game played out, Van Gundy will face heavy criticism for putting Jameer Nelson back in the lineup. Days of will-he-or-won't-he discussion regarding Nelson led up to the Finals, and ultimately, the answer was, "he will." Jameer got off to a great start, dishing 3 assists in his first 3 minutes on the court, but his play bottomed out as the game progressed. In 23 minutes off the bench--yes, he split time with starter Rafer Alston almost exactly--Jameer scored 6 points on 3-of-9 shooting and handed out 4 assists. He was a -19 in the game, while Alston was a -6. Both Nelson and Van Gundy are certain to come under fire, but I'm not sure if it's fair. Nelson set the table for his teammates very well early on, but they just missed shots. As the game wore on, Nelson's shot came up shorter and shorter, and nobody else was making baskets, either. What, exactly, is Nelson supposed to do? His team's failure in this game does not fall squarely on his shoulders, one of which is surgically repaired. Nor does it rest squarely on Van Gundy's shoulders. Everyone is complicit. Maybe I'll let Marcin Gortat (4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 4 blocks, no turnovers, lots of hustle in 20 minutes) off the hook... but everyone else needs to play better. Period. Otherwise, the Magic are going to find themselves winless in the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history. Bleak, but true.
Yes, I badly want to say that a loss is a loss is a loss... Henry Abbott points out that teams that win Finals games in blowout fashion overwhelmingly tend to win the whole shebang. The Magic are going to have to buck yet another trend if they hope to win their first title. Not too surprising, that.