Missing for two games, Orlando found its Magic touch.
Making easy shots and tough ones from everywhere, the Magic won its first game in two visits to the NBA Finals as Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis scored 21 points apiece in a 108-104 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 last night to pull within 2-1.
Orlando shot a Finals record 63 percent - including another Finals-record 75 percent in the first half - to snap a six-game Finals losing streak and avoid falling into an 0-3 hole that no team in postseason history has been able to escape.
Kobe Bryant, seeking a fourth title and his first since 2002, scored 31 points for the Lakers but the superstar had just 10 points in the second half and went only four of 15 from the field after the first quarter. He also missed five free throws, points that could have given the Lakers that 3-0 lead.
Game 4 is tomorrow night, and Game 5 - now necessary - will be at Amway Arena on Sunday.
With their season 48 minutes from all but disappearing, the Magic, hosting their first Finals game since 1995, had five players score at least 18 points. Rafer Alston, who was just 3-for-17 from the field in the first two games, had 20, and Hedo Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus 18 each.
"We've got to play like this," Howard said of the balanced scoring. "When guys are attacking we're tough to guard. We moved the ball a lot tonight. We got some good shots. We didn't rush anything."
Pau Gasol scored 23 points but had just three rebounds and the Lakers were only 16 of 26 from the line.
For a while, it appeared the Magic, who shot just 36 percent while dropping Games 1 and 2 at Staples Center, couldn't or wouldn't miss.
From 20 feet, swish. From 10 feet, nothing but net. Layups, runners, banks, pullups, didn't matter. You name it, if it went up, more times than not it went in.
"Well, it was going in the basket. That always works," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "That formula's always tried and true."
Orlando made 24 of 32 shots in the first half and only cooled off a little in the third quarter as they entered the fourth at a 65 percent clip and clinging to an 81-75 lead.
Bryant sat out the first 4:47 of the fourth, and when he finally subbed in, the Lakers were still down by five and unable to do anything to stop the Magic's marksmanship.
But then, Orlando began to misfire at the worst time possible.
After Pietrus was long with a wide-open three, Gasol was fouled at the other end and made two free throws to make it 99 all with 2:41 remaining. Orlando's rowdy crowd, which waited 14 years for a chance to welcome the Larry O'Brien Trophy to town, grew nervous.
But Pietrus calmed fears by dunking in a rare miss to put the Magic up two, and when Lewis hit a jumper - it was originally called a three but replays showed his right foot was on the line - Orlando was up 104-101.
Howard was called for a questionable foul on a drive by Bryant, who then split his two free throws. When he went to the Lakers bench during a timeout that followed, Bryant hit himself in the head for letting two more valuable points slip away.
Orlando couldn't capitalize, though, and the Lakers got the ball back when Lewis missed a baseline jumper and the rebound went off him and out of bounds.
Bryant, who scored 17 in the first quarter and 21 by halftime, then maybe tried to do too much. He crossed over to get past Pietrus, but Howard, the league's defensive player of the year known mostly for his blocks underneath, made like a point guard and tipped the ball away. Pietrus was fouled and made both to make it 106-102.
The Lakers suddenly became desperate. Instead of working the ball in to Gasol or Lamar Odom, they fired away from outside. They couldn't shoot with the Magic.
Bryant missed a three, Trevor Ariza misfired on one, Bryant clanged another and Derek Fisher was long as the Lakers went 0-for-4 on a possession where they had to have points.
* Paul Westphal will be named coach of the Sacramento Kings, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee. The five-time All-Star formerly coached in the NBA with Phoenix (1992-96) and Seattle (1998-2001).
* A woman arrested last month at Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki's Dallas home has a July 27 hearing on her theft arrest. Crystal Taylor was arrested May 6 at Nowitzki's home in north Dallas. The 37-year-old defendant was indicted in September 2006 on a theft of services charge for not paying a Beaumont, Texas, dentist for 2004 work worth between $1,500 and $20,000. *