2009: Lakers versus Magic (Kobe’s Fourth Ring)

Background

The Lakers lost in the 2008 NBA Finals, but Andrew Bynum returned from injury in the 2008-09 season to start at center, allowing Lamar Odom to move to the bench and bolstering the best front court in the league. With the rest of the roster largely unchanged, the team reeled off a conference-best 65 wins in the regular season, and in the first round of the playoffs the Lakers dismantled the Utah Jazz easily in five games. Facing the Houston Rockets in the next round, Los Angeles rebounded to take a 2-1 series lead after dropping the opener at home, and the Lakers advanced after the teams traded wins over the final four games. In the Western Conference Finals, Los Angeles split the first four games with the Denver Nuggets before the Lakers won the final two contests to move on to their second straight NBA Finals.

Although Orlando signed All-Stars Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady in 2000, the team struggled in the playoffs and landed the top draft pick in 2004, selecting Dwight Howard out of high school. By 2009, the Magic had built a strong defense around the big man and won 59 games, earning Howard his first Defensive Player of the Year award as well as the third seed in the East. In the first round, Orlando outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers in a six game series that saw Hedo Turkoglu hit a game-winner in the fourth. In the semifinals, the Magic knocked off the defending champion Boston Celtics in seven games despite trailing the series 3-2. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Orlando beat league MVP LeBron James and top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in a six game series that saw game-winners in both the first and second contests, sending the Magic to the NBA Finals.

Lineups

Los Angeles’ starting back court remained unchanged from the previous season with Derek Fisher at point guard next to perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant at shooting guard. Lanky defender Trevor Ariza earned the starting small forward spot in the front court next to All-Star power forward Pau Gasol and seven-foot center Andrew Bynum.

Off the bench, the Lakers utilized Jordan Farmar as the backup point guard next to backup small forward Luke Walton. Lamar Odom became the leader of the bench unit as the third big man to spell Gasol and Bynum. Players that saw limited minutes in the NBA Finals include Josh Powell, Shannon Brown, Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, and Sasha Vujacic.

Rafer Alston became Orlando’s starting point guard mid-season as an injury replacement, and Courtney Lee started at shooting guard to round out the back court. Hedo Turkoglu served as the starting small forward in the front court alongside Rashard Lewis at power forward and DPOY Dwight Howard at center.

Returned from injury, All-Star Jameer Nelson backed up Alston at point guard in the playoffs, and J.J. Redick provided depth at shooting guard. Mickael Pietrus played heavy minutes off the bench as a perimeter defender, and Marcin Gortat served as Howard’s backup in the post. Tony Battie played sparingly in the NBA Finals for the Magic.

Game One: Magic 75, Lakers 100

The Magic hung close in the first quarter, but Kobe Bryant scored 18 points in the first half to help open up a 10-point lead at the break. In the second half he continued his onslaught with another 18 in the third quarter alone to put the game out of reach. Bryant finished with 40/8/8 to lead the Lakers, along with Odom and Gasol’s combined 27 points, to a game one victory. The Los Angeles defense stifled Howard, Turkoglu, and Lewis, and no Orlando player shot above 50% in the blowout.

Game Two: Magic 96, Lakers 101 (OT)

Although the Lakers held a five-point lead at the break, neither team could separate down the stretch in game two. With the game tied and under 10 seconds left, Turkoglu blocked Kobe from behind on a potential game-winner. Courtney Lee then blew a wide-open lob with 0.6 seconds that could have evened the series. Los Angeles held on in the extra period to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Bryant paced the Lakers with 29 points alongside Odom and Gasol’s combined 43 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 blocks, and Fisher chipped in 12 clutch points of his own. Lewis erupted for Orlando with 34 points and six made three’s, and Howard and Turkoglu combined for 39 points, 22 rebounds, and 5 blocks, but the Magic now faced a huge deficit.

Game Three: Lakers 104, Magic 108

The Magic were much more comfortable back at home and tied a Finals record shooting 75% in the first half. The Lakers hung around in the second half, but a clutch jumper from Lewis helped Orlando take a slim lead late. Kobe then missed a big free throw and had a costly turnover, and Los Angeles failed to score in the final minute despite multiple attempts at the basket. The Magic held on to win the first game of the series behind balanced scoring display that saw Howard, Turkoglu, Lewis, Alston, and Pietrus combine for 98 points. Kobe and Gasol combined for 54 points, but the series was now 2-1.

Game Four: Lakers 99, Magic 91 (OT)

Orlando looked well on their way to evening the series when they led by 12 at the half, but the Lakers stormed back to take the lead going into the final period. A crucial moment occurred with under a minute left with Los Angeles trailing by three. Howard was fouled inside and missed both foul shots, and Fisher hit a clutch three in transition to tie the game and send it to overtime. Just like in game two, the Lakers controlled the extra period and seized a convincing 3-1 series lead. Kobe struggled from the floor but scored a team-high 32 points, and Gasol, Ariza, and Fisher combined for 44 points. Turkoglu led the Magic with 25 points alongside Howard’s monster 16/21/9 performance, but Lewis struggled from the floor making only two shots and Orlando now faced elimination.

Game Five: Lakers 99, Magic 86

Fighting to stay alive, the Magic held the lead early in the game, but a 10-0 run in the second quarter allowed the Lakers to reclaim the advantage. Over the final three periods, timely three’s from Odom and Ariza and spectacular plays from Kobe–including one where he hung in the air and banked in a shot over Howard–kept Los Angeles in control as they cruised to the victory and the 2009 NBA championship. The Lakers found balanced support from Odom and Gasol’s double-double’s and Ariza and Fisher’s combined 28 points, and another 30-point performance from Bryant was enough to earn him his first Finals MVP award. The young Orlando team bowed out in five games after another poor shooting night, and Phil Jackson won his tenth championship as a coach, passing Red Auerbach for the most all-time.

Aftermath

After winning the 2009 NBA championship, the Lakers weren’t at all interested in fading from contention. They won another 57 games in 2010 and the number one seed behind several game-winning shots from Kobe and stellar team basketball. After a six-game win in the first round over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles swept the Utah Jazz and outlasted the Phoenix Suns in six to reach their third straight NBA Finals.

The Magic again reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 but lost in six games to Boston. In the following years, turmoil between Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy led Orlando to fire the head coach and trade the disgruntled star despite winning three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards. After trading Howard in 2012, the Magic began a rebuilding process that has yet to result in another playoff appearance.

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