It was an all-out team effort that screamed “championship-caliber” and whispered “just three more.”
In the opening game of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers drowned the Orlando Magic, 100-75, en route to seizing a 1-0 series lead and maintaing home-court advantage.
Despite trailing after the first frame, 24-22, Los Angeles went on to outscore Orlando 78-51 in the final three quarters, including 29-15 in the third quarter courtesy of Kobe Bryant’s 18-point explosion.
In past games, this Lakers team has blown large leads as if it were an emerging fad. On Thursday night, the Lakers made sure they dotted their Is and crossed their Ts in a second half that saw Los Angeles’ stranglehold reach 28 at one point.
Not to be rude, but have you checked out the box score? The Magic would have produced better numbers had they not shown up at all. Or perhaps the Lakers just made it appear that way.
Los Angeles shot over 16 percent better from the field and about 11 percent better from the charity stripe than Orlando. The fellas in purple and gold also splashed more than twice as many treys, collected 14 more rebounds, dished out eight more assists and – the most glaring difference of all – punked the Magic in the paint, 56-22.
The Lakers’ defense wasn’t just the best we’ve witnessed during these playoffs; it was the best we’ve witnessed since the team began training camp in Hawaii last fall. Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, all of whom are experiencing their first Finals run, combined to score just six of Orlando’s 23 buckets and collectively had more turnovers (6) than assists (4).
To add insult to injury, neither of Orlando’s Big Three led the team in scoring. Instead it was Mickael Pietrus who came off the bench to score a team-high 14 points on 5-13 shooting.
And then there was Bryant, who was unusually reserved in his media interactions leading up to the start of this series. Bryant is certainly not one to talk a whole lot of talk, but in Game 1 the Black Mamba surely walked the walk: 40 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and a game-high +25 rating.
For the third straight playoff game, the Lakers looked like a team on a mission, poised to hoist the fifteenth championship banner in franchise history. If they continue to play this way, it will only take three more.
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Written by Josh Hoffman