"Excuse me, excuse me,'' said
"It was a good play, it was a good pass,'' said Lee, the rookie guard of the Orlando Magic. "Coach did a good job of drawing up the right play.''
Six-tenths of one second had remained in regulation of Game 2 when
"I caught it, got a good look at the backboard,'' Lee said. "I tried to get it up there as quick as possible.''
Lee had curled hard around the keytop and left his defender,
"And the ball rolled off the rim,'' he said, trying to smile. Trying to make the best of it.
Now the Magic trail the 2-0 in the NBA Finals, headed back home for as many as three games in Orlando. Instead they might have been returning with the home court advantage. But there stood Lee at the end of regulation Sunday, hands clasped upon his head, agonized that he had missed a layup, a difficult, acrobatic layup under a kind of pressure he had never experienced, but a layup nonetheless. Into overtime went their chances and there the Lakers snuffed them out with a 101-96 win. (
"It was kind of surreal for a second, because I couldn't believe how open he was,'' said Magic guard
The entire postseason has been surreal for the Magic, and the strangeness of it may just be catching up with them. They have been figuring it out as they've gone along ever since
Now they entered Game 2 of the Finals coming off a 25-point walloping by the Lakers, who have spent the past 12 months preparing for a series that has in many ways taken Orlando by surprise.
The Magic may have been dreaming about the Finals, but they haven't been -- couldn't be -- focused on it. The miserable experiences of Lee are the kinds of things the Lakers have undergone and learned from.
In the final 30 seconds of regulation -- the game tied at 88-88 following an extraordinarily calm layup from Gasol after he collected a deflected entry pass from Fisher -- the Magic tried to run a go-ahead play on the left side that wound up in the hands of Lee. He wanted to rotate the ball but he could find no one open.
That was the first unfortunate experience. At the other end a midrange pullup by the 6-foot-6 Bryant was stripped cleanly from behind by the 6-10 Turkoglu, and an officials review of the play put 0.6 seconds back on the clock. On the court the Magic ran some motion without making the inbounds pass, and then in the huddle coach
"We warned Kobe that was probably what they were going to come back to, because the first time he was helping on a lob opportunity to Howard,'' said Lakers coach
"It was just a brilliant play,'' said Bryant while admitting that he had been planning to shade off Lee. "It was just a very, very smart play that he drew up. He knew my eye was more on the shooters coming up, and just a hell of a play by a hell of a coach.''
All of the chances the Magic had to steal the result were undone by the novelty of their circumstances. Long before they found themselves needing a spectacular game-winning play by a late-round draft pick from Western Kentucky, Van Gundy and his team were trying to devise impromptu ways to overcome the Lakers' advantages. The Lakers were swarming Howard inside, pushing him out of his favorite positions before the ball arrived, running an extra man at him when he puts the ball on the floor and often stripping him as he goes up for the shot or breaking up his passes out to the perimeter. There have been extended stretches in these games when they have rotated to the open man and defended the passing lanes as if they've had an extra man or two on the floor, and guess who inspired them to defend so passionately? It's one of many lessons learned from the loss in last year's Finals.
In hope of offsetting Howard's diminished production, the Magic experimented in Game 2 with a big lineup of the 6-11 Howard and the 6-11
They went most of the fourth quarter without a true point guard on the floor, leaving the ballhandling to Turkoglu. "All we did was try a lot of stuff today,'' said Van Gundy. "If you don't walk out with a win, you didn't do the right stuff.''
While Orlando's three best players -- Lewis (who kept them alive with 34 points on 21 shots), Turkoglu (22) and Howard -- combined for 73 points and shot 52.1 percent, the rest of the Magic were going 8 for 31 overall as well as 1 for 12 from the three-point line. Howard had seven turnovers alone as the Magic yielded 28 points to the Lakers on 20 turnovers. The Magic shot 41.8 percent as a team, and they still have a lot of problems to work out by Game 3 Tuesday.
"When I look at these numbers,'' says Van Gundy, "it's amazing to me that this was an overtime game.''
At this late stage you don't see teams making it up as they go along. Experience means everything, and someday Lee will look back and realize that.