ORLANDO — No athlete on the planet — at least on this side of the putting green from Tiger Woods — closes quite like Kobe Bryant. He's the ice-in-his-veins killer. The Terminator. The one you call to finish the job. Mr. Clutch.
He owns the fourth quarter.
Most of the time.
But in Game 3 on Tuesday, Bryant, looking tired and mortal, gave new life to the Magic, which shot a Finals-record 62.5 percent in a 108-104 win over the Lakers to end an 0-for-6 franchise mark in the Finals.
With the Lakers eyeing a chance to open a 3-0 series lead and with a fourth title that he has obsessed about almost within his reach, Bryant slipped up.
The Magic players know it, but they don't expect to see it again.
"We have to understand," Magic guard Rafer Alston said as the teams worked out for tonight's Game 4. "He's not one to let it happen on back-to-back occasions."
Bryant and the Lakers have been bouncing back all postseason. Pursuing a 15th NBA crown one year after losing to the Celtics, they are 6-0 after a playoff loss. They can regain control of the best-of-seven series, but they'd better be careful not to give Orlando momentum.
As it showed in Game 3, the Magic can shoot holes through any dream.
"You've got to give credit where credit is due," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "They hit shots."
Bryant came out intent to land a knockout shot in Game 3. He eased into the flow, then went on a tear, scoring 17 in the final 5 minutes, 41 seconds of the first quarter. At halftime, he had 21 and although the Magic was shooting 75 percent, the Lakers trailed by only four.
But in the second half, Bryant wore down. He shot just 3-for-10 from the field and missed four free throws. In the fourth quarter, normally his signature time, he went 2-for-6, missed all three 3-point attempts and had the ball stolen in the last 30 seconds.
On Wednesday, Bryant took offense to the notion that he tired in the fourth. "As far as me hitting the wall, so what if I did?" he wondered. "I didn't, but so what if I did?"
Back on its home floor, Orlando made 21 of 24 shots during one stretch in the first half.
"They're in this position because they shoot the ball well," Bryant said. "It's not something that is just a fluke or one game where they got hot. I mean, they get hot and stay hot. When that happens, you're dealing with a monster."
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy had no explanation for his team's record-setting shooting spree. The Magic shot 29.9 percent in Game 1 and 41.8 percent in Game 2.
"Our ball movement was good, but I don't care how good your ball movement is and the quality of shot you get," he said. "You're not going to put the ball in the basket at that rate very often. But it's one of those nights, thankfully, that a lot of shots went down."
|Lakers 2, Magic 1|
|Game 1||Lakers 100, Magic 75|
|Game 2||Lakers 101, Magic 96 OT|
|Game 3||Magic 108, Lakers 104|
|Tonight||at Orlando, 9, Ch. 28|
|Sunday||at Orlando, 8, Ch. 28|
|Tuesday||at Los Angeles, 9, Ch. 28*|
|June 18||at Los Angeles, 9, Ch. 28*|
* If necessary