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Magic's home cooking gets them back into series

ORLANDO, June 10 – Dwight Howard had 21 points and 14 rebounds and Rafer Alston had 20 points to power Orlando to a 108-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in game three of the NBA finals.
Rashard Lewis scored 19 points for the Magic who shot a finals series record 62.5 percent and avoided being swept by the Lakers in the best-of-seven series.

"We finally got us some open shots and did a great job of that," Howard said. "We got to continue to do that if we want to shoot a high percentage.

"There is no need for us to roll over. We felt good knowing we had three games at home and we wanted to get the first one tonight."

The Magic’s win spoiled a strong performance by Kobe Bryant who put on a shooting clinic in the first half by scoring 21 points en route to his game-high 31 in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,461 at the Amway Arena.

Bryant also had eight assists but shot just 50 percent from the free throw line for the Lakers, who are seeking redemption after a humbling loss to Boston in last year’s finals.

"I am used to coming through in these situations," Bryant said. "It just didn’t happen tonight. We’ve got to bounce back in game four."

Magic’s giant centre Howard turned up his game a notch with his best performance in the finals. He has now recorded a double-double in 20 of his last 21 playoff games and he committed just one turnover Tuesday compared to seven in game two.

"In order for us to beat this team you have to have a balanced attack," Howard said. "Somebody has to step up each night."

Under the 2-3-2 series format, game four is Thursday in Orlando.

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The Lakers are in the finals for the 30th time in franchise history while the Magic are making just their second appearance in 14 years.

This marked their first finals game win for the Magic franchise as they were swept by Houston in their only other appearance. They did it by shooting a blistering 75 percent in the first and had five players in double figures.

"When they are making the shots they made there aren’t a lot of rebounds out there," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said.

Game two was a defensive battle but this one at times had the making of a shootout.

The Magic led by five points at halftime and 81-75 at the end of the third quarter.

Orlando guard Mickael Pietrus helped seal the win with crucial free throws, a dunk, a steal and strong rebounding down the stretch. His two free throws with 28 seconds left made it 106-102.

Pietrus also had a put-back dunk with just over two minutes left to give Orlando a two-point lead 101-99. Pietrus scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth.

"That was the biggest shot of the game," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said of Pietrus’ dunk.

Bryant had a chance to make a three-pointer with 22 seconds left that would have cut the Orlando lead to one, but his long-range shot hit the rim and bounced off.

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"We had a number of plays designed but they were able to strip the ball late in the game," said Jackson.

Bryant had the killer instinct in the first two victories for the Lakers in Los Angeles and he carried his strong play over into game three. But he struggled at the free throw line (five-of-10) Tuesday and didn’t get the same support on the road that he got from some of his teammates at Staples Center.

Even so, he had 21 points in the first half. He tried to get his teammates involved early as he had three assists before his first field goal at 5:27 to give Los Angeles a 14-13 lead.

Orlando point guard Alston led the Magic with 13 points in the first half after being maligned for his poor shooting in the first two games.

Alston shot eight-of-12 from the field as Van Gundy’s decision to stick with him as a starter paid huge dividends in game three.

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