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NBA Finals - Game 2 recap

L.A. Lakers 101, Orlando 96  --  Lakers lead series, 2-0
After a Game 1 blowout, Game 2 figured to be a close game... and centrally important to the outcome of the 2009 NBA Finals. The Orlando Magic definitely had their chances to tie the series, but only the Los Angeles Lakers seized the moment in the crucible of crunch time on Sunday evening at Staples Center. As a result, the Western Conference champions will only need to win one road game in Florida in order to take full control of the battle for basketball's world championship.
The amazing aspect of this contest was its startling simplicity and clarity. While most games lend themselves to extended coaching critiques or analyses of adjustments made (or not), Game 2 showed that--at least on some occasions--the most basic plays tell the tale of a high-tension tussle.
Basketball--played at the highest level--involves a considerable amount of complexity. The ins and outs of screens, cuts, rotations, floor alignments, switches, and other maneuvers all factor into the outcome of a game. Coaches, surrounded by a phalanx of assistants, try to adjust the flow of a game so that fast breaks and halfcourt sets can create an advantage at either end of the floor, based on the personnel at their disposal. These tactics and the ways in which they're tweaked often influence the tone and texture of a 48-minute battle.
The attitudes of teams, and their ever-changing psychological profiles, also enter the equation when postseason series are decided. The Magic and the Lakers both exploited favorable matchups, and displayed a superior demeanor, in their respective conference finals triumphs over Cleveland and Denver, respectively. In the opening game of the finals, L.A.'s veteran poise clearly emerged as the biggest reason why the Lakers were able to get off to a strong start. As Game 2 dawned, basketball junkies wondered what coaching move, or attitudinal adjustment, was going to change the trajectory of the series. Speculation and intrigue ran rampant through the City of Angels.
In the end, though, the Lakers took command of the finals for an almost absurdly simple set of reasons.
L.A. boss Phil Jackson and Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy didn't decide this game. Key tactical decisions didn't really play into the fray, either. One can plainly posit a few claims that are hard to refute when submitted for further examination.

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First, Dwight Howard's simple inability to catch a bad Derek Fisher pass with 33 seconds left in the fourth quarter enabled Pau Gasol to tie the score for the Lakers, at 88-all. Fisher threw a chest pass into the mitts of Orlando's star center, but when the loose ball caromed to Gasol, a seemingly Magic-al defensive sequence instead allowed a big bucket. A bounce of the ball, and a slight lapse in attention from Howard, kept the Lakers in the thick of the fight.
The simple plays weren't over in Tinseltown. Not by a longshot.
On the Magic's following possession, guard Courtney Lee--on what was a broken play featuring solid Laker defense--found a little opening on the left side of the lane. Lee, who had been playing very admirably for Van Gundy in these playoffs, despite wearing a face mask, had a 5-foot floater with 9 seconds left, but the shot didn't drop. Again, a basic play didn't meet with the right results for Orlando.
And then came the final five tenths of a second in regulation time.
After two timeouts, the Magic--inbounding the ball at midcourt--saw Hedo Turkoglu throw a perfect pass to the basket, where Lee caught the ball in the air, at waist level, adjacent to the backboard. One layup was all Lee needed to send the finals back to Florida 1-1.
There was just one problem: Lee missed the chippie.
In overtime, a costly pair of mistakes by Magic guard J.J. Redick--a missed open 3, followed by a turnover that led to a pair of Derek Fisher free throws for the Lake Show--gave L.A. a 94-91 lead that ballooned to 97-91 when Kobe Bryant fed Pau Gasol for an "and one" with 1:14 left in the extra period. By that point, it was all over but the shouting. Simple plays--and an inability to make them--taught Orlando a very cruel lesson: You can battle hard and compete well (instead of folding the tent as the starstruck Magic did in Game 1 last Thursday), but if you don't finish off the simplest tasks, your sweat and blood still won't deliver you a win.
The Magic did indeed fight the Lakers tooth and nail on Sunday, in a scene very different from the laugher that unfolded roughly 72 hours earlier in the same building. Yet, some ever-so-slight lapses that had nothing to do with tactics, character, or coaching gave Orlando yet another loss, and a two-game deficit that will force Van Gundy's guys to sweep the next three games at Amway Arena.
Basketball is complex... except when it's decided by the simple things. Without mastering the basics, the Magic won't be able to pull any rabbits out of the hat against a Laker team that's now two wins away from the Larry O'Brien Trophy.


By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer

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