- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2009

LOS ANGELES | Refusing to put much emphasis on the Orlando Magic’s atrocious performance in their NBA Finals-opening blowout Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers predicted Sunday’s Game 2 would be much more of a challenge.

They were right - but it didn’t make a difference.

Finding a cure for the shooting ills that hampered their efforts in Game 1 and shoring up their defensive attack, the Magic made things interesting before the Lakers won 101-96 in overtime at Staples Center to take a 2-0 series lead.

Spurred by seven points from Pau Gasol in the extra frame, Los Angeles outscored Orlando 13-8 to escape with the victory. The Lakers pulled within two victories of capturing their franchise’s 15th championship and now head to Florida in command of the series.

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 29 points on 10-for-22 shooting, and Gasol added 24. Lamar Odom chipped in with 19 (including two clutch foul shots in overtime), and Derek Fisher scored 12.

“We really wanted to win this game just to keep the pressure on Orlando,” Odom said. “The whole team wants this so bad, just having been… embarrassed by Boston [last year]. We just want to come out and keep playing better and better.”

Rashard Lewis led Orlando with 34 points. Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard added 22 and 17 points, and Howard had 16 rebounds. The glaring errors for Orlando were 20 turnovers that went for 28 Lakers points, along with a combined 6-for-26 shooting performance from its guards.

“I’m looking at these numbers and can’t figure out how this was an overtime game,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I just can’t figure it out. … We knew we were going to have to win one in L.A. just as we did in the Cleveland and Boston series, just for a mental aspect. We didn’t get the job done, but we’ve got to go home, try to get a win in Game 3. Now we’ve got to go home and try to do better.”

The frenzied finish came after the game got off to a sluggish start. The first quarter ended in a 15-15 tie after the Lakers shot just 30 percent. The Magic were even worse, making only 28.6 percent of their field goals. Bryant, the Game 1 assassin, took only four shots in the first quarter and made just one.

The Lakers fared slightly better in the second quarter after getting an early spark from their bench and went into halftime with a 40-35 lead. That advantage would have been even more significant, however, had it not been for Lewis.

Three days after going 2-for-10 in his team’s 100-75 Game 1 defeat, Lewis rediscovered his shooting touch and then some. In the second quarter alone, he was 7-for-10 with four 3-pointers, scoring 18 of his team’s 20 points. Lewis’ teammates went a combined 1-for-13 in the quarter; Howard touched the ball on the offensive end only once. Another crippling factor for the Magic was turnovers: They committed 11 in the first half.

When the second half began, Bryant evidently decided he had deferred to his teammates long enough, scoring Los Angeles’ first six points. But Orlando finally started knocking down shots, and after a back-and-forth third quarter the Magic managed to take a 65-63 lead into the final quarter.

“It was just like a couple of heavyweight boxers that have gone against each other before,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “They’re just feeling each other out in the first round, second round, third round type of thing, just looking for holes and the changes in the game a little bit. We stayed in the ballgame because they turned the ball over and had opportunities because of it and couldn’t capitalize on it.”

The Magic remained just out of reach of the Lakers until 3:08 remained in the game. Mickael Pietrus, who was largely responsible for disrupting Bryant, fouled out and sent Bryant to the line with Los Angeles down 81-80. Bryant made both foul shots to give his team a one-point lead, and Orlando committed its 17th turnover to give the ball back to the Lakers.

After Bryant made another pair of free throws, J.J. Redick tied the score at 84-84 with his lone 3-pointer of the game. After Bryant missed a shot, Lewis banked one home to recapture the lead for Orlando, only to have Bryant come back with a shot off the glass of his own. Turkoglu, who went 3-for-11 in Game 1, drilled a 3-pointer that gave the Magic an 88-86 lead with 47.7 seconds left and forced a Lakers timeout.

After Gasol laid in a shot on a pass from Fisher, tying the score at 88-88, Orlando rookie Courtney Lee drove for a layup but missed. Odom came down with the ball with 9.1 seconds left and called timeout.

Bryant tried to get off a potential game-winning shot with 1.8 seconds left, but Turkoglu blocked his shot from behind and Orlando got a final stab at the win with 0.6 seconds left in regulation. Coming out of a timeout, Lee drove baseline for an acrobatic layup, but it bounced off the rim as the horn sounded, sending the game to overtime.

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