This was the sweep Orlando had waited to see for 14 years.
On their seventh try, the Magic, swept in four straight games by Houston on their previous visit in 1995, got their first win in the NBA finals.
Shooting a finals record 63 percent from the field and clamping down on Kobe Bryant, the Magic closes within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series with a 108-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 on Tuesday night.
After two straight cold performances in L.A., the Magic were more accurate than any team in NBA finals history.
“They pretty much made all their shots,” Lakers forward Trevor Ariza said.
The Magic shot a blistering 75 percent (24 of 32) in the first half and cooled off in the second half when they were only 16 of 32.
The basket looked big, and Orlando hardly missed it. With a loss, the Magic would have fallen into an 0-3 crevasse — a hole no team has ever crawled from. Now, they have a chance to become the fourth team in finals history to come back from an 0-2 deficit and win it all.
“Why not?” Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu said. “We believe in each other and as long as we’re playing our game, our system and fighting for 48 minutes — why not?”
In the series opener, the Magic couldn’t throw it in the Pacific Ocean. They made only 29.9 percent and were blown out by 25 points. In Game 2, they were only slightly better, shooting 42 percent in an overtime loss. But back on their home court, they shot themselves back into this series.
As Shaquille O’Neal, still a presence long after leaving both franchises, posted on his Twitter page following the game: “By george I think we have a series.”
Game 4 is Thursday night, and Game 5 — now necessary — will be at Amway Arena on Sunday.
Bryant, seeking a fourth title and his first since 2002, scored 31 points for the Lakers but the superstar, widely considered the game’s best closer, was awful in the final minutes. He scored just 10 points in the second half, went only 4 of 15 from the field after the first quarter and looked tired in the fourth.
He also missed five free throws, points that could have given the Lakers that 3-0 lead.
“It was a bad night,” he said.
With their season 48 minutes from all but disappearing, the Magic had five players score at least 18 points. Lewis and Dwight Howard had 21 apiece, Rafer Alston, who was just 3 of 17 from the field in the first two games, had 20 and Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus 18 each.
“We lost two games, but there’s no need to roll over,” Howard said. “It’s a seven-game series. A team has to beat you four times to end the series and we felt good knowing that we had three games at home.”
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 couldn’t or wouldn’t miss.
From 20 feet, swish. From 10 feet, nothing but net. Layups, runners, banks, pull-ups, didn’t matter. You name it, if it went up, more times than not it went in.
“We lost this game on the defensive end,” Bryant said. “We had been playing very good defense and the team tonight shoots 62 percent from the field.”
Despite Orlando’s unconscious shooting, the Lakers went into the fourth down just 81-75.
After Pietrus was long with a wide-open 3, Gasol was fouled at the other end and made two free throws to make it 99 all with 2:41 remaining.
“Oh, boy,” muttered one fan near the media section.
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 3 but replays showed his right foot was on the line — Orlando was up 104-101. Bryant then had a chance to pull the Lakers within one, but split two free throws.
The Lakers got the ball back but Bryant, who scored 17 in the first quarter and 21 by halftime, tried to do too much on the next possession. 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.
“It’s disappointing,” Bryant said. “I’m used to coming through in those situations. The team trusts me to come through in those situations and it just didn’t happen tonight. Just got to bounce back.”
The Lakers then became desperate, missing four straight 3s in the closing seconds.
Bryant finally dropped a putback to make it 106-104 with 0.5 seconds left, but Lewis was fouled and hit his free throws to close it out.
Game, set, Magic.