If the infamous Sun Tzu has his "Art Of War", the Orlando Magic now have their "Art Of The Choke" after last night's epic Game Four letdown, on their home court.
Simply put, championship0caliber teams do not choke.
The Magic don't have to look very far to find out who is to blame for this loss. All they have to do is find the nearest mirror, look into it and the answer will be staring right back at them.
Entering half time of last night's game, the Magic were up by 12 points, with a score of 49-37. However, the score didn't do justice to how much the Magic were dominating the Lakers at that point of the game.
They easily could have been up 20 points, but they continuously made mistakes when they should have been padding their lead, whether it was turning the ball over in bad spots, fouling when there was no reason to, taking bad shots, or missing free throws.
All of that was the reason they were only up a dozen at the half.
The start of the third quarter was nothing short of atrocious for the Magic.
In a quarter where the Magic were outscored by a score of 30-14, they simply could not do anything right. They had the same amount of turnovers (five) as they did field goals. They shot a terrible 5-of-16 from the floor for the quarter.
Just like that, their 12-point halftime lead was now a four-point deficit.
In spite of all that, the Magic still had plenty of opportunities to win the ball game.
In the lat 6:30 of a close game, the Magic picked a terrible time to play their worst basketball of the entire season. What they did in this stretch made their third quarter effort look great.
In the final half of the fourth quarter, the Magic went a stunning 1-for-9 from the floor, for a total of four points. That single field goal was a three-pointer from Mickael Pietrus.
Still, despite that, the Magic were up by five points with 34 seconds left and had possession of the basketball.
You can't blow a lead like that, in that time frame, on your home court if you are serious about winning an NBA title. It just can't happen.
The story of the game was the Magic's free-throw shooting.
They missed 15 free throws for the game and shot a pathetic 59.5 percent from the stripe. One of their best free-throw shooters, Hedo Turkoglu, missed three of his last four foul shots.
Some may call that fatigue. I call it choking.
The biggest choke job of all, however, came from "Superman" himself.
With 11.1 seconds left on the game clock, Howard caught the ball near the basket and was immediately wrapped up by Kobe Bryant. Howard stepped to the line with his team up by three points. All he needed to do was knock down one of the two shots and make it a two-possession game.
If you are going to publicly call out your coach and teammates about getting more touches, when the game is on the line, on the biggest stage, you better put your money where your mouth is and come through for your team.
There is no debating that.
Even though Howard choked from the stripe, the Magic still were in a position to win the game.
The Lakers chose to inbound the ball from the length of the court.
Up by three points, the obvious thing would seem to be to foul immediately, putting the Lakers on the line for two foul shots.
I guess it wasn't obvious to Stan Van Gundy or the rest of the Magic coaching staff.
Van Gundy later said "The way we were shooting our free throws, we didn't want to get into a foul-shooting contest."
Way to show confidence in your team, Stan.
So, the Lakers inbounded the ball to Kobe Bryant. The Magic then decided to double team him some 70 feet away from the hoop for some reason. He then passed it out to Ariza, who immediately found a wide open Derek Fisher around the hash mark.
For some reason at this point, Jameer Nelson felt like "stopping the two-point basket", while Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis protected the paint.
Maybe they didn't realize that a two-point hoop didn't beat or tie them.
So, Fisher, being the clutch player he is, decided to step into a great look from the three point line and proceeded to bury the game tying shot with 4.6 seconds left.
Simply put, awful execution all around by the Magic.
The Magic still had 4.6 seconds left to try to win the game. Again, they failed to execute.
With two timeouts left, Turkoglu couldn't get the pass in on their first attempt, so he rightfully called a timeout. In the huddle, Van Gundy told him they had one more timeout left and to take it if they couldn't get the ball to who they wanted too.
Well, Turkoglu must not have heard him when he said that, because he got the ball in to Pietrus, who threw up a brick.
In the end, the Magic were not able to over come their many mistakes. In overtime, the Lakers went on to outscore them 12-4.
The win put the Lakers up three games to one in the series. Now the Lakers have a stranglehold on the Magic, needing only one more victory to win their fifteenth title in franchise history.
Whether it was the Magic's seventeen turnovers compared to the Lakers' seven, Rashard Lewis only scoring six points on two of ten from the floor, Hedo missing three of his last four free throws, Howard folding like a house of cards under pressure, or any of the many other mistakes the Magic made, they just couldn't elevate their game to where they needed too.
Phil Jackson said it best in the post-game press conference:
"We've always said the character has got to be in the players if they are going to be great players. You just can't draft it."
The Lakers were great when they needed to be last night. The Magic simply were not.
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