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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Orlando shoots lights out in Game 3 against Lakers

ORLANDO (AP) Missing for two games, Orlando found its Magic touch.

Making easy shots and tough ones from everywhere, the Magic won their first game in two visits to the NBA Finals as Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis scored 21 points apiece in a 108-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 on Tuesday night to pull within 2-1.

Orlando shot a finals record 63 percent — including another record 75 percent in the first half — to snap a six-game finals losing streak and avoid falling into an 0-3 hole that 88 previous teams in postseason history have been unable to escape.

"Well, it was going in the basket. That always works," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "That formula's always tried and true."

In the series opener, Orlando couldn't hit the Pacific Ocean, making only 29.9 percent and was blown out by 25 points. In Game 2, the Magic were only slightly better, shooting 42 percent in an overtime loss. But back on their home court, where the baskets seem wider and more welcoming, they shot their way back into this series.

As Shaquille O'Neal, still a presence long after leaving both franchises, posted on his Twitter page following the game: "By (George), I think we have a series."

Orlando has a shot. No doubt.

Kobe Bryant, seeking a fourth title and his first since 2002, scored 31 points for the Lakers but the superstar had just 10 points in the second half and went only 4 of 15 from the field after the first quarter. He also missed five free throws, points that could have given Los Angeles that 3-0 lead.

The Lakers, going for their 15th title and looking to redeem themselves for losing to Boston last season, have lost their stranglehold over the Magic.

"This is a tough team, not a cupcake team," Bryant said. "Extremely well coached, execute well and we've got our work cut out."

With its season 48 minutes from all but disappearing, Orlando , hosting its first finals game since 1995, had five players score at least 18 points. Rafer Alston, who was just 3 of 17 from the field in the first two games, had 20 and Hedo Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus had 18 each.

"We lost two games, but there's no need to roll over," Howard said. "It's a seven-game series. A team has to beat you four times to end the series and we felt good knowing that we had three games at home."

Pau Gasol scored 23 points but had just three rebounds and the Lakers were only 16 of 26 from the line.

For a while, it appeared the Magic, who shot just 36 percent while dropping Games 1 and 2 at Staples Center, couldn't or wouldn't miss.

"We lost this game on the defensive end," Bryant said.

Orlando made 24 of 32 shots in the first half and only cooled off a little in the third quarter as it entered the fourth at a 65 percent clip and clinging to an 81-75 lead.

Bryant sat out the first 4:47 of the fourth, and when he was finally subbed in, the Lakers were down by five and unable to do anything to stop the Magic's marksmanship.

However, Orlando began to misfire at the worst time possible.

But Pietrus calmed fears by dunking in a rare miss to put the Magic up two, and when Lewis hit a jumper — it was originally called a 3 but replays showed his right foot was on the line — and Orlando was up 104-101.

Howard was called for a questionable foul on a drive by Bryant, who then split his two free throws. When he went to the Lakers bench during a timeout that followed, Bryant hit himself in the head for letting more valuable points slip away.

Orlando couldn't capitalize, though, and L.A. got the ball back when Lewis missed a baseline jumper and the rebound went off him and out of bounds.

Bryant, who scored 17 in the first quarter and 21 by halftime, then maybe tried to do too much. He crossed over to get past Pietrus, but Howard, the NBA's 2008-09 Defensive Player of the Year known mostly for his blocks underneath, made like a point guard and tipped the ball away. Pietrus was fouled and made both to make it 106-102.

The Lakers suddenly became desperate. Instead of working the ball into Gasol or Lamar Odom, they fired away from outside.

They couldn't shoot with the Magic.

Bryant missed a 3, Trevor Ariza misfired on one, Bryant clanged another and Derek Fisher was long as the Lakers went 0-for-4 on a possession where they had to have points. Bryant did score on a putback with .5 seconds left, but it was too late. Although there was time left, confetti began to fall to the court.



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