Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NBA Finals Game 3

Kobe came out Tuesday determined to close the door on any chance he would not cement his legacy with a championship this year. He finished with the kind of performance that raises legitimate doubts about his championship mettle and the outcome of the series with Orlando. The Magic cut the L.A. lead to 2-1, prevailing 108-104 in a game the Lakers could have won if Kobe had not missed 10 of his last 13 shots from the floor, five of his last eight free throws, and lost the ball when Dwight Howard poked it away in the final minute. The stretch run was the complete opposite of his first quarter, when Kobe had 17 points and either scored or assisted on all but four L.A. baskets. He was a major reason why the Lakers were able to stick around despite 75 percent shooting in the first half for the Magic, a phenomenal display that set an all-time NBA Finals record for field goal percentage in a half. Kobe's totals of 31 points and eight assists don't suggest any sort of failure, but the lofty standard to which he is aspiring to be held demands more than just a prolific statistical showing. Too many misses and mistakes prevented his team from sealing victory after erasing what had been a nine-point deficit with 7:55 to go. Kobe missed from close range with 3:33 left, was off on a 3-pointer with 2:02 on the clock, clanked a free throw with 59 seconds to go, lost the ball with 28 seconds remaining and missed two three-pointers on the final L.A. possession. Those troubles obscure a scintillating 63 percent shooting performance by the Magic and a 51 percent shooting night for the Lakers that was nearly enough to put them over the top. Rafer Alston had a fearless performance after scoring a total of 10 points in the first two games, going 8-for-12 for 20 points. Rashard Lewis shot 3-for-6 on his three-pointers, including a pair of treys at the end of the first half that erased the last lead for the Lakers, and went 8-for-14 overall to score 21 points. Howard tied Lewis for the team high in points, going 11-for-16 at the line and 5-for-6 from the floor. Hedo Turkoglu was 7-for-12 for 18 points on an all-around night, leading the team with seven assists and grabbing six rebounds as well. Mickael Pietrus came off the bench to score 18 as well and, once in the game, was able to slow Kobe, who was far and away the focus of L.A.'s offense. His 11-for-25 performance from the floor came on more than twice as many shots as any other Laker, though his teammates made the most of their limited opportunities. Pau Gasol was 9-for-11 for 23 points, and Lamar Odom and Jordan Farmar had identical 4-for-6, 11-point stat lines off the bench. Trevor Ariza struggled with his shot thanks to Turkoglu's defense, but managed 13 points and seven rebounds. Derek Fisher went 4-for-9 for nine points, including a wide open three-pointer he canned to pull the Lakers within two points at the 5:25 mark of the fourth quarter. The Lakers tied the game on a pair of Gasol free throws with 2:41 to play, but Pietrus finished off a Turkoglu miss with a resounding dunk that gave the Magic the lead for good. The Magic are a couple of Courtney Lee misses in Game 2 away from enjoying a lead in the series, as well. Kobe still has a ways to go before he wins his first NBA crown without Shaq, and as the unquestioned best player on his team. The question for the rest of the series, much as it was coming into the Finals, is whether he possesses that extra gear necessary to carry a team the way Jordan, Russell, Bird and select few others did. If he does, he will ascend into their ranks. If he plays the way he did in the second half of Game 3, he won't.

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