First off, what a magnificent game that was. For the first time this series I felt the officials didn’t try to affect the outcome of this game come crunch time. They missed one questionable no call, when Kobe clearly elbowed Nelson in the jaw on that kick out to D-Fish in over-time, but credit the shooter for making the shot. As much as the media will look back at those two big three’s by the veteran, I’ll look past the obvious. I’ll tell you what really defeated the Orlando Magic, the Orlando Magic.
Well actually, what I’m looking at is quite obvious. Free-throws. Orlando missed too many free-throws to count, and had they converted on two or three missed attempts from the line in the fourth quarter, it never would have come to Fisher’s three’s. Well, maybe. Dwight Howard was an absolute monster in Game 4, and as improved a free-throw shooter as he has been during the course of this post-season, he reverted back to his old self, missing two big ones in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. Had he made even one of the two, it would have most likely clinched the game. One free-throw is that valuable. How about earlier in the fourth, prior to Hedo Turkoglu turning into Mr. 4th Quarter and becoming Turkey’s version of Michael Jordan in a two possession stretch, he missed three of four free-throw attempts. Turk’s an excellent free-throw shooter. What type of effect would it have had if Orlando was up eight instead of five in the final seconds?
Since I’m already here, talking about how Orlando shot themselves in the foot, another key to Orlando’s demise was turnovers. They finished the first half up twelve, but dominated every aspect of the game except for turnovers. Even ESPN play by play commentator Mike Breen mentioned how it seemed as if Orlando should be up by more. They flashed a stat on the teams turnovers by comparison, and Orlando was minus eight, leading to nine Laker points. That means the half-time lead could have been twenty-one. Of course the Lakers surged to start the second-half, but what would the mentality have been like if Orlando had more leeway to recover from the Trevor Ariza onslaught?
The Lakers of course, have been here before. Despite being down two possessions with a minute and a half to go, they never faltered. They played like a team that’s been there before, and made the plays necesary to put them in position to win. Orlando on the other hand, choked. I know they’re a loosey-goosey team, but at some point, you have to buckle down and get serious. Despite the horrendous free-throw shooting in the fourth, they had ample opportunities to pull off the win. The decision making down the stretch was god-awful, and matched their free-throw shooting. Two possessions come to mind. After Dwight Howard completed a three-point play, the Orlando defense stifled LA, forcing them late into the shot clock in which Trevor Ariza had no choice but to fire a three as the buzzer went off. He drills it. In that situation, Orlando, up three, with the opposing team on it’s heels, needed to force Ariza to put the ball on the floor and make a difficult driving shot, or at least contest harder on the three he did take. Neither happened, game tied. And of course, up by three, under ten seconds left with a foul to give, you simply can not let your opponent get off a three-point attempt to tie it. A good look, at that. The entire building knew what the Lakers were trying to do, and with the championship theoretically on the line at that given moment, you let D-Fish basically walk up and shoot a rhythm three. He drills it.
It’s a shame Orlando didn’t tie the series tonight. After their no-show in Game 1, they have done their part to make the past three games as exciting and nerve-racking as possible. But you get the sense that the Lakers know they escaped Game 4 with a win, and will do everything in their power to close this series out on Sunday. Kobe Bryant has had three consecutive sub-par games (by his standard) and that’s a credit to the tough defense provided by Courtney Lee, JJ Redick, and primarily Mickael Pietrus. But that is reason for concern if you’re Orlando, because Kobe’s due for a break out performance, especially in a clincher. With the championship in sight, The Black Mamba smells blood, and that’s not a good thing if you’re a Magic fan. On top of that, if the NBA suspends Pietrus for Game 5 (I don’t think they should or will) the Magic may not stand a chance.
Orlando doesn’t lack confidence. They have been in this position several times this post-season and each time they’ve bounced back. The only difference is, they didn’t have to follow up previous heart-breaking losses with a close out game. Furthermore, LA has not lost back to back games this post-season, so bowling a turkey against them doesn’t seem remotely feasible. All Orlando can do is take solace in the fact that they let two games slip away, and could easily be up three to one. They have to pay attention to detail and execute. They can not have self-inflicted wounds and expect to recover against such a formidable opponent. I have my doubts on this series returning to Hollywood, but I do believe in Magic.
PS – Rashard Lewis had six points tonight. That’s not getting it done.