No hypnotic magic can stop the Lakers now


Sorry. That was supposed to have been the script. Orlando should have won. They led 24-20 after 12 minutes, held a 12-point advantage during halftime, led 67-63 after the third quarter and, with just 39 ticks left, led by five. Then, with the same length of time it takes to count “1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5,” they owned a three-point edge. But, left unattended because the enemy believed they’d rely on Kobe The Great, a forgotten elderly named Mr. Fisher was left open. Swoosh! It was 87-87. It’s called “LeShot” of these NBA Finals.

It’s called Experience.

For here he was, 34 years old in a league where the average age is 26 years young. Wasn’t Derek Fisher a bygone? Obsolete? An abandoned relic? Not with that three-pointer he converted to force OT. And not when, minutes later with 31 seconds left, he scored another 3-pointer. To think that, prior to those two heroic bombs, he attempted five 3-pointers and missed all five. Isn’t that called luck? Swerte? No.

It’s called Experience.

For Fisher, battle-scarred with three NBA rings, had done this before: In the 2004 conference semis against the San Antonio Spurs, he lobbed a game-winning shot with 0.4 seconds left. He’s “been there, done that.”

And so now, the Lakers own a 3-1 edge and are just 48 ballgame minutes away from its 15th crown. Second only to the Celtics (who have 17 titles), the Lakers own the record for most trips to the NBA Finals (30). Does this maturity help? Did it matter in Game 4? Absolutely. It’s called ripeness and wisdom.

It’s called Experience.

How about the Magic? Had they tied the series and, with tomorrow’s Game 5 still in “O-Town” and the momentum of two games won spurring them on, imagine a 3-2 Orlando margin? For the Lakers, that would be frightening.

But, no, that’s not reality. The reality is, apart from Fisher’s shot of magic, Orlando squandered it. Take Dwight Howard. He drives a Rolls-Royce, earns a salary of $13.8 million per year, resides in an 11,000-square-foot home where he polishes his Olympic gold medal. That’s impressive. Even more impressive in Game 4 were Howard’s 21 rebounds and nine blocked shots. But, when it mattered the most—with 11 seconds left that would have given Orlando a five-point cushion—he missed two free throws. In all, he converted only 6 of 14 from the 15-foot line. Worse, Hedo Turkoglu, an 80 percent free throw shooter, missed five of 13. With the most crucial game of the series at stake, Orlando shot 59.5 percent (they missed 15) from the foul shot line versus 75 percent for LA.

It’s called Inexperience.

How about Trevor Ariza? Trailing 37-49 at halftime, what the 6’8”, 220-lb. native of L.A. (he led his Westchester High School to the California State championship) did was stupendous: he scored 11 straight points (13 in all) in a short burst during the third quarter that including a 5-for-6 clip from the field, including 2-for-2 from three-point range. All this considering that he had missed all six attempts in the first half and was scoreless. Said Ariza: “They always tell me that you don’t worry about the last shot. Forget about it and that’s what I did and I came out ready to play.” That’s confidence.

It’s called Experience.

Finally, didn’t we all appreciate this game’s intensity and tension? Kobe stealing the ball from Howard’s hands after a rebound as they grappled for the ball? Kobe gripping tight the ball—and the ballgame—as Howard clamps his arms around him? Them screaming? Them staring beastly looks at each other? Or how about that “punch” Mickael Pietrus threw on Paul Gasol with 3.4 ticks left? To me, that looked like a desperate act from a frustrated man who knows the score should be “2-2.”

Can the Magic win? Can they exorcise the NBA past that says “No team in the Finals has come back from a 1-3 deficit?” Can they spell trickery and witchcraft upon L.A.?

Yes they can. They will perform the one act that is most famous in magic: The Disappearing Act.

Categorized as NBA
John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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