- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. | Something obviously can be said for playing in friendly confines.

After struggling in all facets of the game in two contests in Los Angeles, the Orlando Magic welcomed the Lakers to Amway Arena on Tuesday night and pulled off a 108-104 victory - the first NBA Finals victory in franchise history.

With the victory, the Magic pulled within 2-1 of the Lakers and will look to even the series with a home win Thursday.

The Magic, who will host the next two games of the best-of-seven series, erased a Lakers lead with just more than a minute left in the first half and never relinquished it.

Orlando failed to get much production from its frontcourt in a 25-point Game 1 blowout, then got nothing from its backcourt and committed 20 turnovers in an overtime loss in Game 2. But in Game 3, much-maligned point guard Rafer Alston finished with 20 points.

“The one thing that you can’t question with our team is the resilience in situations like that,” said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, whose team shot an NBA Finals-record 62.5 percent from the field. “Whether it’s from game to game, minute to minute, our team will keep playing. We have bad games like Game 1, but it’s never a matter of our resilience or quitting or anything else.”

Dwight Howard recorded 21 points and 14 rebounds, power forward Rashard Lewis added 21 points and five assists and small forward Hedo Turkoglu chipped in with 18 points and a team-high seven assists.

“Tonight we played with more speed, more energy on the offensive end,” said Alston, who scored just 10 points combined in the first two games. “We were able to get down the floor, push it, a lot of pick-and-roll, which is our game. … The bad thing is we shot 62.5 percent and almost lost the game, so we’ve got to find a way to defend these guys, stop fouling Kobe [Bryant] on 3-point shots and pull-up jumpers.”

After losing a lead late in the first half and watching Bryant endure a cold streak that lasted the better part of 15 minutes, the Lakers spent much of the rest of the game playing catch-up.

They wiped out an eight-point deficit with just more than nine minutes left in the game, tying the score at 99-99 when Pau Gasol went 2-for-2 from the foul line with 2:41 left.

The Magic went back up again, taking a 104-101 lead with 1:06 remaining. Bryant got to the line with 59.8 seconds left; he missed the first attempt but made the second.

With the shot clock running down, Rashard Lewis missed a baseline layup, turning the ball over. Bryant had the ball at the top of the key on the opposite end but fumbled it once before Gasol scrambled on the floor to secure it. He tossed it to Bryant, who again fumbled it into the hands of Mickael Pietrus, and the Lakers guard had to foul to prevent a breakaway score.

Pietrus made both shots to put Orlando up 106-102 with 28.7 seconds remaining, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson called a timeout.

Bryant then missed a fall-away shot, and when teammate Trevor Ariza corralled the ball but was trapped, the Lakers had to burn another timeout.

The Lakers missed three straight 3-point attempts in the final 16 seconds of play before Bryant tipped in a putback to trim the score to 106-104. He fouled Lewis on the inbounds pass, but there were only 0.2 seconds left, and Lewis made both foul shots.

“It’s disappointing,” said Bryant, who led his team with 31 points. “I’m used to coming through in those situations. My teammates trust me to come through in those situations, and I didn’t tonight. Just have to bounce back and do better next time. We feel like we can play much, much better.”

For the Lakers, Gasol added 23 points. Trevor Ariza added 13 points and Jordan Farmar and Lamar Odom scored 11 apiece off the bench.

Unlike the first two games of the series, when he started slowly, Bryant went on the attack right away, scoring 17 first-quarter points on 7-for-10 shooting to lead the Lakers to a 31-27 lead heading into the second quarter.

Keeping Orlando in the game was Alston, who bettered his series total with 11 first-quarter points on 4-for-4 shooting.

The Lakers maintained the narrow lead for the first 7 1/2 minutes of the second quarter until Orlando went on a 6-4 spurt to go up 49-48 with 4:29 left in the half. After a brief seesaw battle, Howard knocked down a pair of free throws, giving the Magic a 59-54 lead at the break.

Orlando headed to the locker room having outscored the Lakers 32-23 in the second on 81 percent shooting (75 percent for the first half) and posting four players in double figures.

Bryant, meanwhile, cooled significantly in the second quarter, mustering only four points on 1-for-5 shooting. And only Gasol (10 points) also had reached double digits by halftime for the Lakers.

Bryant’s cold touch continued in the second half. After the 6:55 mark of the second quarter, when he knocked down a tough 3-pointer over Mickael Pietrus, Bryant didn’t make another field goal - missing eight straight attempts - before getting another 3-pointer to fall with 1:17 left in the third quarter.

The Magic, meanwhile, remained in front - leading by as much as 77-69 with 2:31 left in the third - before allowing the Lakers to pull within 81-75 heading into the fourth quarter.

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