LUCKY TO have a second chance, the Los Angeles Lakers grabbed it.
Kobe Bryant and Co. held on and are in control of the NBA Finals - just barely.
Orlando rookie Courtney Lee missed a potential winning layup as regulation ended, giving Los Angeles another shot it didn't waste. Pau Gasol scored seven points in overtime as the Lakers, so dominant in the series opener, survived with a 101-96 win over the visiting Magic in Game 2 last night.
"There is a sense of relief because they played very well," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "There's no doubt they had every opportunity or chance to win."
If Orlando doesn't come back and win this series, it will long remember Lee's missed opportunity. He had a chance to give the Magic its first Finals win.
"We missed it. I don't know what else to say," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We executed well, Hedo [Turkoglu] made a great pass. I'm not trying to be a pain . . . Hedo made a great pass and he just missed it."
Orlando may not get a better shot to beat the Lakers.
"We blew a lot of assignments tonight - a lot of assignments - and we still managed to get a win," Bryant said.
When it was finally over, Derek Fisher and the Lakers jogged to the locker room, smiling and high-fiving fans along the way.
Turkoglu trudged through the tunnel dejected, a towel hanging from his head.
Bryant scored 29 points, Gasol added 24 and 10 rebounds, and Lamar Odom 19 points for the Lakers, who won Game 1 by 25 but needed 53 minutes to put away the Magic in Game 2.
"Incredible," Odom said of Gasol's performance. "His hand-eye coordination is remarkable for someone that size. He never drops the ball. He's great at catching and delivering really quick, keeping the basketball high. He's one of the best players I've ever played with."
Rashard Lewis scored 34 - 18 in the second quarter alone - and Dwight Howard had 17 points and 16 rebounds for Orlando.
Game 3 is tomorrow night at Orlando's Amway Arena, which will be hosting a Finals game for the first time since June 9, 1995. Games 4 and 5, if necessary, also will be at Orlando.
With the score tied at 88-88 in regulation, Lee missed the first of two late-game shots when he drove the lane and missed a contested layup with 10.5 seconds remaining.
The Lakers called time with 9.1 seconds to play, and after Odom caught the inbounds pass, he quickly gave it to Bryant, who drove into a crowd. Bryant attempted an off-balance 12-footer, but his shot was blocked from behind by Turkoglu with 1.8 seconds left.
The horn sounded, the clock expired to zeros and Jack Nicholson and the star-studded Staples Center crowd braced for overtime.
But the officials huddled at the scorer's table and decided to put 0.6 seconds back on the clock because Turkoglu grabbed the ball and called timeout.
Turkoglu couldn't find anyone open on the inbounds and was forced to call another timeout. On the Magic's second attempt, Lee got free on a perfectly executed play and caught Turkoglu's long lob pass as he neared the left side of the basket. But with 7-foot Gasol closing in on him, Lee's shot caromed off the backboard and front of the rim.
Howard dunked in the miss after the horn sounded as Lee put his hands behind his head in disbelief and began a long walk back to the bench as his teammates tried to console him.
"I was happy he missed it," Gasol said. "I was surprised he was kind of wide open. But I tried to contest it as good as I could, and then we gave ourselves a chance to win the ballgame."
Fourteen years to the day after the Magic let Game 1 of the 1995 Finals against Houston get away when Orlando's Nick Anderson missed four late free throws, Lee provided another excruciating moment for the franchise.
The Magic, who looked more relaxed than in the opener, will head home thinking about what might have been. They could be tied, 1-1, and with the next three games scheduled in front of their frenzied fans, they could have denied Bryant and the Lakers a 15th title.
Now, in a season of comebacks, they'll need their biggest one.
* The NBA All-Star Game will return to Los Angeles for a record fifth time in 2011. Staples Center will be the site of the Rookie Challenge, Youth Jam and All-Star Saturday Night. The All-Star Jam Session, an interactive fan experience, will be staged at the convention center next door. Dallas is hosting the 2010 game.
Comissioner David Stern said the event will carry an economic impact of $100 million for Los Angeles.
"Anybody that brings $100 million to my town at a time when the economy isn't doing well, and it'll be 2011, and hopefully we'll be pulling it out," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "But obviously this will be a great shot in the arm, a great opportunity for us to show off LA."
The All-Star Game will be played Feb. 20, 2011, at Staples Center, also the site of the 2004 All-Star Game. It will be the fifth time the game and its associated events will be held in Los Angeles. *