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by Larry Ness - 06/17/2009
Were the Orlando Magic 'done' after their 100-75 Game 1 loss to the Lakers? After all, Phil Jackson-led teams were a perfect 43-0 all-time (31-0 in seven-game series) after winning Game 1 of a series and the Lakers had won 16 consecutive best-of-seven series after taking a 1-0 series lead. How about after their 101-96 Game 2 loss in OT?
We knew after that loss, that the Lakers were 38-1 all-time after taking a 2-0 series lead in a best-of-seven-series. NBA playoff history also stated that just 14 of 222 previous teams had overcome 0-2 deficits to come back and win a best-of-seven playoff series (that's 6.3 percent!). It had happened just three times in 30 tries during the NBA Finals.
In Game 3, the Lakers led the Magic by the score of 31-27 after the first quarter but Orlando would shoot 75.0 percent (24-of-32) in the first half and take a 59-54 lead at intermission. The Magic would finish the game 40-for-64 (62.5 percent), which set an NBA Finals record. However, the Magic were never able to pull away from the Lakers, winning just 108-104.
That set the stage for Game 4, as the Magic really needed to win that game plus Game 5, to have realistic chance to win this series. Why? Since moving to the 2-3-2 format back in 1985, 15 of the previous 24 series had gone at least six games and in the nine cases in which a team returned home with a 3-2 lead for Games 6 and 7, each time that team would go on to win the title (eight teams by winning Game 6).
As a wrote in my journal after Game 4, "how many games can a team afford to give away in a seven-game series and still win an NBA title? My guess is that two would be at least, one too many." The Magic had a great opportunity to win Game 2 in LA but rookie Courtney Lee missed two layups in the game's final 10 seconds, the second at the buzzer on a perfectly thrown alley-oop pass from Turkoglu. Then in Game 4, Dwight Howard missed two free throws with 11.1 seconds left in game with the Magic leading by three points, leading to the Lakers winning 99-91 in overtime.
While the Magic had a couple of days to recover from their Game 4 loss, they also knew that 29 previous teams had fallen behind 3-1 in an NBA Finals, with all 29 going on to lose. The Magic played Game 5, seemingly resigned to that fact. Orlando, which had played so well this postseason, went with barely a whimper in Game 5. After jumping out to a 15-6 lead, the Magic were 'done,' as LA's 16-0 run in the second quarter gave them a 56-46 halftime lead, which led to an easy 99-86 win.
Was it LA's defense in The Finals which gave them the win or was it Orlando's poor offensive execution? Likely, it was a combination of the two but the Lakers, who were judged "too soft" in last year's loss to the Celtics, put on quite a defensive 'show' in this year's Finals.
Consider that the Cavs, the NBA's top defensive team this year, allowed the Magic to average 103.7 PPG in the Eastern Conference finals, while the Magic shot just barely over 48 percent. In The Finals, despite two overtime games, the Lakers held the Magic under 100 points four times (including both OT contests). Orlando averaged just 91.2 PPG and including its NBA-record 62.5 percent shooting in Game 3, shot just 43.9 percent as a team for the series, including only 38-of-115 on threes (33.0 percent).
As mentioned in Monday's journal, Orlando's biggest weakness came in its guard play, not including Pietrus. Alston, Lee and Nelson were a combined 36-101 (35.6 percent) from the floor, including a pathetic 6-of-34 (17.6 percent) on threes. As for JJ Redick, would he even be able to start back at Duke?
Returning for a minute to my April 19 journal, I noted that Bird and Magic entered the NBA for the start of the 1979-80 season (30th anniversary), rejuvenating what was a 'dying' league. With LA's win in '09, a check of the history books tell us that of the 30 championship teams since that 1979-80 season, 15 (or 50.0 percent) have been teams which finished with the best regular season record (or tied for the best record). Nine champs have been teams which finished with its second-best mark (Lakers' 65 wins were second-best to the Cavs' total of 66) and three others with its third-best record.
That leaves just three champions from outside the top-three regular season records in these last 30 seasons (10 percent). Remember that stat before betting any team outside the top-three to "win it all" before the start of the 2010 postseason.
Lastly, let me wrap up the final 'numbers' of 2009's postseason. Home teams went 58-27 (.682) this postseason but just 42-39-4 ATS (minus-0.9 games). Under bettors did well, going 47-37-1 (plus-6.3 games). Those following the Zig Zag theory (playing 'on' the SU loser of the previous game) had a solid 9-4-1 ATS during the conference finals and The Finals, but over the entire postseason went a much more modest 35-31-4 (plus-0.9 games).
Closing note: SU and ATS winners were almost synonymous after the first round, as the playoffs' final 40 SU winners went an amazing 34-3-3 ATS (that's 91.9 percent!).