Commentary

Magic have total meltdown in Game 1

Originally Published: June 5, 2009
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Dwight Howard Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesDwight Howard and the Magic fell flat on their faces in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

LOS ANGELES -- The gray walls weren't exactly closing in on Dwight Howard, but it might have felt that way. In the first five minutes after the Magic's locker room opened, a crowd gathered and grew -- and then grew some more -- at the locker next door, Jameer Nelson's.

Soon, the private space between Howard's bare feet had been invaded.

Then, a guy wielding a long microphone held it aloft no more that 12 inches from the ice bags wrapped around Howard's knees, and still he sat there passively.

Not a peep, just as in the performance he had finished mailing in.

Howard maintained his silence until a few minutes had passed and someone mentioned the obvious -- Orlando's failure to get its offense going.

"Hmm," Howard groaned sarcastically as he peered down at the final box score, "29 percent. But look, J.J. was 1-for-2."

Not only that, but Redick held Kobe Bryant scoreless the first three times he defended him one-on-one, and Redick also buried a 3-pointer from well behind the arc. Problem was, by that point the Magic already were trailing by 28 of what ended up as a humiliating 100-75 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

How humiliating? Well, we can tell you that Shaquille O'Neal found the time -- either at halftime or early in the third quarter -- to post a photograph on his Twitter page showing what the child of Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard might look like.

But no conversation about what constitutes ugly would be complete without a thorough perusal of the Magic's side of the box score, beginning with Mr. Silent and Not So Deadly himself, the guy who drew the wrath of Shaq by assuming one of his former nicknames.

Howard had just one field goal on six attempts, failing to convert a bucket from the first quarter on -- which coincided with the time the game first started getting away from the Magic before it got out of control.

The Lakers pushed him out of his comfort zone, cut off the baseline and quickly rotated out to the Magic's shooters when Howard had to bail out.

But did said shooters bail him out? No.

Mickael Pietrus went 3-for-5 from behind the arc (making one of them after pump faking Bryant three times -- another play that would have been highlight reel material if it hadn't taken place with the Magic already down 20-plus points), but Orlando's starting backcourt combined to shoot 1-for-8 on 3s (Courtney Lee was 1-for-4, and Rafer Alston went 0-for-4) and 5-for-19 overall. Nelson was a spotty 3-for-9 from the field in his first game in four months.

Aside from Howard, Orlando's other two main offensive weapons, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, were almost as brutal from the field.

Said Turkoglu, who shot 3-for-11: "Compared to the last three series, and what we did to get here, we didn't do anything. They wanted this one more than us."

From Lewis, who shot 2-for-10: "There was no stage fright at all. Look, they scored 56 points in the paint, that's more than half. You can't win ballgames like that."

As for the Magic's defense, we advise anyone back in central Florida dressed in blue and white to skip ahead two paragraphs because the following quote from Pietrus -- Orlando's designated Kobe stopper -- isn't exactly going to inspire confidence (nor will it be pleasant to know that Pietrus was smiling as he said it).

"I was trying to do my best, but everyone knows this guy is a legend. What can you do?"

Bryant's 40 points will go down as the story of this game, and there's a nice little side story of how his drive to win his first championship without Shaq is affecting his mood.

"My kids are calling me Grumpy from the Seven Dwarfs," Bryant said. "A grouch."

Funny, but there were no grouches in the Magic locker room afterward. Plenty of stunned faces and morose looks, but no one bemoaning this 25-point defeat as anything more than what it was -- one single loss.

"I know playoff history and stuff, and it's pretty hard to find a champion who hasn't at some point in their playoff run gotten their butts beat by 20-plus. I mean, San Antonio did it I think every year in their playoff runs. You go back far enough, and obviously I worked for Pat Riley, and those of you who are old enough or even older than I am remember the Memorial Day Massacre. Those kinds of things happen. They get one win for it," Van Gundy said.

Yep, one win.

But it was the kind of win -- Howard kept coming back to the theme of not having enough "effort and energy" -- that left you wondering how Superman had enough zip to high-five Jack Nicholson a half-dozen times before the opening tip but not enough juice to prevent himself from being outplayed by Andrew Bynum when the two were matched against each other in the first 12 minutes.

In short, the Magic looked liked tourists. Happy to be here, but clueless when it comes to knowing how to get into a comfort zone. Freshly washed (nice haircut, by the way, Stan), but then dirtied by their unfamiliarity with the territory in which they now find themselves treading.

It isn't supposed to be this way, not in the Finals.

Fortunately for the Magic, this can go down as a throwaway game. But they'll need something out of Howard and a few other folks, unlike what they got in Game 1.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.