Last February, Sports Illustrated conducted a survey where 190 NBA players were asked, “With the game on the line, which NBA player would you want to take the last shot?” Dwayne Wade got two percent; Paul Pierce got three percent, same with Chauncey Billups and LeBron James. Who received a staggering 76 percent? You guessed it right: Kobe Bean Bryant.
But, as we all saw yesterday, with less than 30 seconds left in the game clock and Orlando Magic leading by two, Kobe dribbled left, then right, penetrated—then he fumbled! From a potential game-tying two-pointer, he lost the ball… and the ballgame. Worse, minutes earlier, he missed a free throw. Not once but five bungled free throws out of 10 attempts. And he’s the man proclaimed by 76 percent of his peers as the game’s “best closer?”
I know, I know. Kobe is human. Michael Jordan also miscalculated on easy baskets; as would Tiger Woods misjudge on paltry 3-foot putts. Admitted No. 24: “I’m used to coming through in those situations. The team trusts me to come through in those situations, and it just didn’t happen tonight.”
Phil Jackson noticed that Kobe looked fatigued. The Orlando analysts noted that it was their formidable defense. We say, “he’s human.” All true. But the fact is, the Lakers had an opportunity to exterminate the Magic wizardry. For had L.A. won, it would have been hopeless for Orlando: 88 teams have gone to win with a 3-0 lead.
To think that the Magic touch was near-perfect in Game 3. Well, not 100 percent, but how about making three out of every four shots in the first half (a record) and 40 of 64 shots in the entire game (another finals record).
What’s intriguing with the Magic is how they’ve improved since last week. In Game 1, they shot only 29.9 percent and were lambasted, losing by 25 points. In Game 2, they shot 42 percent and nearly won (didn’t Phil Jackson admit that Pau Gasol goal-tended on Courtney Lee’s lay-up?). Finally, yesterday, they shot spectacular numbers—and won.
They’re improving. Plus—and this is irrefutable—they love the Amway Arena. Remember how LeBron attempted to score one win in “O-town,” the third largest city in Florida (behind Miami and Tampa), but could never win there? “This is a tough team, not a cupcake team,” said Kobe. “Extremely well coached, execute well and we’ve got our work cut out.”
Last year’s MVP is correct. It won’t be easy. If Orlando wins Game 4, it will be 2-all with the momentum having shifted to Dwight Howard & Co.
But, as history will show, the Lakers have a major advantage. Consider these facts. With a 2-0 lead, Los Angeles has lost only once and won an astonishing 38 times. The 2-0 lead L.A. owned before yesterday? That was the 5th straight year (and the 13th time) in which the home team won the first two games of The Finals. The depressing news for Orlando? In 11 of the last 12 times, the home team winning the first two games went on to win the NBA title. Worse for the Floridians, only three teams have ever come back from an 0-2 score line while 31 teams went on to earn the NBA ring. Finally, the legendary coach of the Lakers is an immaculate 43-0 after winning Game 1 of any playoff series.
Still, if there’s anyone who can vanquish the Californians, it’s the O-Team. Tomorrow, let’s observe the Magic sorcery…