Game 1 Not ‘Magic’ for Orlando
It was only Game 1. Repeat. It was only Game 1.
But still ... when does one game turn into a big, fat omen?
The final score Thursday night in the NBA Finals was 100-75, in case you left early. Hard to guess what must have been more frightening to the Orlando Magic — Kobe Bryant's laser eyes, or Kobe Bryant's immaculate line score.
40 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 turnover.
"The urgency is there," Bryant said the day before of the NBA Finals, "just because it is."
The Magic might not be sure just what that means, but now they've seen what it looks like, and how impossible it can be to stop.
It was not just Bryant, but other assorted Los Angelinos who made the night miserable for their guests. Suddenly, the Orlando shots were not falling as they did against Cleveland, with long Laker arms everywhere.
The Magic will have a painful wait for Game 2 on Sunday.
So now you're Stan Van Gundy. This was your first game day at the NBA Finals, and already there had been a decision to make that could bring a cloudburst of second guesses down on your head. Not to mention annoy part of your locker room.
Your All-Star guard was finally healed enough to play. But Jameer Nelson had not been in uniform since Feb. 2 because of a blown-out shoulder. Without him, your Orlando team took down Boston on the Celtics' own court, and evicted LeBron James in six games. The Magic chemistry has been so good, it feels like it came out of an MIT lab.
This is when a coach earns his tax bracket. What did you do?
You told Nelson he was playing. First time since Groundhog Day.
You told Anthony Johnson, who gave you vital relief last round, that his minutes will be cut.
You told Tyronn Lue he won't even be active.
You had to wonder what Rafer Alston — brilliant in Nelson's spot in the lineup — is thinking.
You tried to fix what hasn't been broken. But then, this is a new and very different opponent.
"The easiest decision, the one that would have created no problems, would have been not to play him," you explained in your pre-game press conference. "I wouldn't have had to have those conversations, Jameer would have understood. But it's not about what's easiest, it's trying to do what you think is best for the team.
"Maybe," you finally decided, "I'm just stupid."
Nelson played fine. Alston scored only 6. But that is not the pressing problem.
The Lakers are the problem. Kobe Bryant is the problem.
The easy assumption to make, given the prodigious nature of NBA talent, is that the players are on autopilot. What does it really matter what the guys in sport coats on the bench are doing?
But we do not see the preparation, the adjustments.
"You hope, as John Wooden would say, that your coaching is done when you get to the game," Phil Jackson said.
Much has been made of the difference in coaching resumes. Van Gundy has won seven payoff series in his career. Jackson has won nine NBA title rings.
So Van Gundy got this question in his pre-game conference Thursday. Was he intimidated by Jackson?
"What's he going to do to me?" Van Gundy said. "He's a great, great coach, but intimidated? I'd be intimidated, I guess, if Dwight Howard or one of these NBA players threatened to kick my ass. Phil sitting down there on his chair doesn't intimidate me, no."
That comment was brought to Jackson in his own pre-game press conference. He didn't bite.
"Anybody," he said, "have a question they'd like to ask that's meaningful?"
Here's a meaningful question: What does Van Gundy do now to repair a team that had to be picked up after Game 1 with a whisk broom?