All the Orlando Magic did on Tuesday night at Amway Arena was delay the inevitable, and they barely did that.
I mean, how do you set an NBA Finals record by shooting 63 percent from the floor (including 75 percent in the first half), dribble before a ridiculously loud home crowd and survive by just four points?
Here's how: The Magic would LIKE to win it all, but the Los Angeles Lakers HAVE to do so, and the Lakers will. In addition to the Magic owning the wrong mindset for dribbling in June, they live and die by the outside shot. Odds are, following Tuesday's shooting spree, they'll slump before long. They'll spend more time in the grave the rest of the way toward playoff extinction than out of it.
Not only that, the Lakers are just better by a Kobe Bryant, a Phil Jackson and an obsession with grabbing a 15th world championship for their franchise. It just might take longer than expected.
"This [108-104 loss] should be motivating to us to go out in Game 4 on Thursday night and play even harder, make a couple of adjustments, so they don't get certain looks out there," said forward Pau Gasol after his Lakers' practice on Wednesday afternoon. "You know, [we should] make sure we contest their shots, most of their shots at least, and then we should continue to play our game."
The Lakers will. They HAVE to win, because Kobe has to do so without Shaq, and Jackson has to break that tie with Red Auerbach for most world championships as an NBA coach (currently at nine), and the Lakers have to avenge dropping their last two Finals, period. The Magic would LIKE to win, because they were swept out of the Finals 14 years ago, and they've been considered an underdog during much of this postseason, and winning is better than losing.
Not the same obsession for the Magic. So the Lakers could end things in five games, maybe six, but they'll likely need seven after spurting to a 2-0 lead in the series before they couldn't find ways to surge at the end of Game 3.
For one, Kobe wasn't Kobe. For another, these Lakers lack a killer instinct, which means they are significantly flawed compared to the ones of Robert Horry and his cold-blooded shots in the clutch. That combination helped those Lakers three-peat to world championships through the summer of 2002. And, yes, they also had a Bryant, a Jackson and an obsession. It's just that they also had a Shaq and an Horry. Plus, their obsession with capturing world championships was a 10 on a scale of 10.
"I would have given this Lakers team a 10 next to us, but they've got some immature guys out there," Horry told FanHouse, after watching both teams practice on Wednesday as a retired playoff closer for the ages. In addition to the Lakers, he starred for enough other NBA teams to earn seven rings overall, which means he knows what he's talking about. Added Horry, "I'm not going to name those immature guys for the Lakers, but you can see what they do on the court. They think about themselves more than the team. They take bad shots. You can see that they don't want to pass to certain guys.
"We didn't have that. But when you have things like that on this [Lakers] team, that's a sign of having too much 'me' and not enough 'we.' "
In contrast, the Magic just have too much "glee." Added Horry, shaking his head, before telling the truth about youthful Orlando and Dwight Howard, the Magic's 23-year-old Superman who occasionally has become Clark Kent in this series, "I watched them during Game 1, and I don't think they took being there too seriously," Horry said. "They were having too much fun. They were just happy to be there."
That's because they were. The Magic survived the mostly average Philadelphia 76ers in the opening round, but only after the Magic blew an 18-point lead along the way to a Game 1 disaster. Later, during the next round, the Magic nearly botched a 28-point lead to the Boston Celtics. Speaking of the Celtics, we discovered they were the Big One instead of the Big Three. So the Magic conquering that Kevin Garnett-less bunch during a seventh game at Boston was overdone.
The same goes for the Magic taking the Eastern Conference against a Cleveland team that they historically whip through matchup advantages.
So it was about right that the Lakers pounded the Magic by 25 points last week to start the Finals in Los Angeles. The Lakers took Game 2 in overtime. Then, despite shooting out of their minds in Game 3, the Magic still needed all the pixie dust they could gather up the highway from the Disney folks to grab the first victory ever in the Finals for the Orlando franchise after six losses.
No wonder super-sub Mickael Pietrus was among several Magic players who couldn't stop grinning on Wednesday at Amway Arena.
"You never know when you're going to get to the Finals again, so you just have to sit back and enjoy it, because this is really fun," said Pietrus, 27, a Frenchmen, who played in the European League before spending five years with the Golden State Warriors. He joined the Magic before this season. Added Pietrus, still grinning, "Today, I woke up, and I was in the Finals. I want to give it my best shot, and the same goes for all my teammates, and hopefully we'll win it."
See, what I mean?