Orlando Magic shoots down NBA's usual star method in beating Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of NBA Finals

ORLANDO — Know this, the NBA is a league of stars.

That is why Chicago won six titles in Michael Jordan's last six full seasons in town. That is why either Shaquille O'Neal or Tim Duncan walked away from the NBA Finals with a ring eight times in a nine-year span.

That is why the league bows to Kobe Bryant, and grovels before LeBron James.

And that is why Orlando is such an easy team to embrace.

The Magic is like a small-college team with a rumpled coach and an antiquated arena, and I mean that in the best way possible. Orlando reminds us what is possible when a group of guys are willing to share both a ball and a dream.

The Magic got back in the NBA Finals Tuesday night with a 108-104 victory in Game 3 against the Lakers that was as impressive as it was historic. After 20 years, one sweep and six consecutive losses, Orlando finally got its first victory in an NBA Finals.

And, best of all, every player on the floor had a part in it.

There are times when we take that for granted in the NBA. When we get caught up in LeBron's hype or Kobe's legacy, and forget that basketball is a game best played by a group that understands harmony.

And so you appreciate Rafer Alston arriving from nowhere to hit 8 of his first 11 shots. You enjoy seeing 6-10 power forward Hedo Turkoglu playing like a point guard with as many assists (seven) as field goals.

And you chuckle knowing LeBron's televised puppet is hiding in some storage bin.

"That's what good smart teams do," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "You space the floor correctly, you make the right decision, you take the shot that's there and you live with it."

Of course, this might all be a fleeting accomplishment. The Magic played about as well as it could play, and still needed the Lakers to stumble in the final minutes to pull out a home victory. The odds for the rest of the series remain slim for Orlando. There is a very real possibility these guys may not win another.

But, for one night at least, the NBA could celebrate collaboration. Unity. Selflessness.

For one night, the best player of the past decade was left looking inadequate.

Bryant appeared unstoppable in the first quarter Tuesday when he scored 17 in barely five minutes. It was as if the game and series were playing out exactly the way the NBA's authors had planned.

But then Bryant went cold, and the Lakers looked lost. Bryant scored a game-high 31, but he missed half of his 10 free-throw attempts, and clanked a handful of shots in the final minutes.

"We're all frail as humans," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Some of us not as much as others."

The Magic led 59-54 at halftime but the score was not as impressive to Van Gundy as the journey. Looking at the stat sheets at intermission, the Magic coach said he was struck by the shot disparity. Bryant had taken 15 of Los Angeles' 41 shots at that point. No player on the Magic had taken more than seven.

"That's the way we have to do it," Van Gundy said. "We have to play as a team."

The remarkable thing is it arrived so suddenly. Sure, the Magic was back home and so you assumed a better show was in order. But this team shot an embarrassing 35.8 percent in two losses in Los Angeles, including 29.8 in Game 1. The guards had been horrible and Dwight Howard had been smothered.

Could Magic players shoot a little better at home? Sure. Could they avoid a boatload of turnovers? Probably.

But its pretty hard to envision an entire team getting as hot as Orlando did for 48 minutes Tuesday night.

When it was over, the Magic had five players with 18 points or more. It had no player taking close to Bryant's 25 field goals. And it shot an NBA Finals record 62.5 percent from the field.

"We've shot 29 percent. Is that the lowest in history," Van Gundy asked. "The second lowest? So we tried. And now 62 percent is the highest. I say this all the time, this is a crazy game, it really is."

Once again, this might not last. Alston pointed out how the Magic shot better than any team in NBA Finals history, and the game was still in doubt until the final seconds.

But, at this point, no one should be shocked when the Magic wins. Orlando has already knocked James out of the playoffs. And on Tuesday night it knocked Bryant on his rear.

In a league of stars, the Magic is an unusual team.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Orlando Magic shoots down NBA's usual star method in beating Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of NBA Finals 06/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 13, 2009 11:31am]

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