Magic win, but it doesn’t quite feel right


I know right now should be a happy time. The Magic just won their first NBA Finals game ever and put themselves within 48 minutes of tying the series at 2-2. Dwight Howard took the Magic farther than that other big man ever could. This team is where no Magic team has ever been before.

But I’m sorry. I’m having a lot of trouble enjoying it.

The Magic played the best game they’re going to play offensively, but still couldn’t keep the Lakers from tying the game up with 2 minutes to play. They set an NBA Finals record for field-goal percentage — better than MJ’s Bulls, Magic’s Lakers or Larry’s Celtics — yet the Lakers could’ve won the game as easily as the Magic did.

It leaves a really sour taste in my mouth.

It feels like I studied for hours and passed a mid-term, and then realized the class average was a 94. Sure, it feels good, but the outside factors take a lot of joy out of the accomplishment.

If anything, the close finish was an ode to the Lakers. When the Magic shoot this good, they’re supposed to be unbeatable. Not tonight. You can forget any blowout Magic victories in this series — the Magic are only going to win a championship this year by winning three more close games.

They’re going to need more clutch plays like Mickael Pietrus’ tip-in with to put the Magic up 101-99 with 2:09 to play. Rashard Lewis will need more cold-blooded shots like down the stretch tonight. And Rafer Alston needs to keep playing his game, as Stan Van Gundy puts it – attacking, creating, penetrating.

The Lakers did everything in their power to shut down the three-point line, and they did — the Magic only shot 14 treys. The Magic responded by attacking the hoop and reaching the free-throw line (23-of-30) and hitting 17 two-point jumpers. My problem is, this game felt like a classic Game 3 trap win. The classic playoff victory when the team without home-court advantage wins the third game with its crowd fired up and its season on the ropes.

I know you can’t count this Magic team out. Ever. They’ve come back from two deficits in these playoffs, and there’s no doubt they have the ability to win three out of four games against the Lakers.

“Whether it’s from game to game, minute to minute, our team will keep playing,” Van Gundy said. “We have bad games like Game 1, but it’s never a matter of our resilience or quitting or anything else.”

That’s true, and we know this Magic team is never out of it. But something really, really has to be done about the defense. The Magic failed to calm the Lakers’ offense for the third consecutive game, this time allowing 104 points on 89 possessions.

Pietrus and Courtney Lee did a fine job on Kobe Bryant after his 6-of-7 start. Bryant only scored 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting in the second half, and he missed 11 of his last 14 shots. The Lakers’ forwards, though, continue to give Orlando problems. Pau Gasol’s pretty post moves led him to 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Trevor Ariza scored 13 points and Lamar Odom had 11 points in a relatively quiet night.

It wasn’t a pretty offensive performance by any standards, but the Lakers did just enough to stay in it.

“I thought we controlled the tempo of the game, the way we wanted to play the game,” Phil Jackson said.

The Magic should’ve won this game by more points. They had chances to put the game away and they didn’t. At several times in the middle of the fourth quarter with the Magic ahead in the 7-9 range, it would’ve taken one shot or one stop to really put the dagger in the Lakers. But that dagger didn’t come until Pietrus made two free throws to make it a four-point game with 28 seconds remaining.

I realize that many of the visitors of this Web site are Magic fans, and I don’t intend to be a Scottie Sourpuss. This was a very nice win and something the Magic can certainly build on. Winning an NBA Finals game isn’t easy under any condition.

But I don’t want the Magic to be reduced to small victories. It’s not enough to make a series of it. I don’t care about them earning respect or anything of the sort.

I just want the Magic to win an NBA title. And I think they can.