[It's time for another SB Nation NBA Theme Day, this time with a focus on our favorite live games we've attended! Here's our first, featuring a classic game we should all remember well.]
The day was June 7, 2009. It was Game 2 of the Lakers-Magic series and it was my first chance to attend an NBA Finals game. I was amped. I have bled purple and gold since I was a baby. I remember obsessing over the Showtime Lakers of the 1980’s (barely), the Nick Van Exel Era (unfortunately), and the glory days of Kobe and Shaq (vividly). This time around, I was fortunate enough to see the Lakers finish off the Jazz and cheered as Derek Fisher threw a forearm shiver into Luis Scolas chest, but this was a different level.
This was the main event.
Fresh off of a brutal defeat to the Celtics the previous season, the Lakers stormed to 65 wins, 11 games ahead of their closest competitor out West. Despite a strong regular season, they had a very up and down playoffs. Kobe and Co. looked amazing in their annual playoff beatdown of the Jazz, scared the Laker faithful half to death by taking seven games to dispatch a Yao Ming-less Rockets, and were mostly in control against Carmelo Anthony's Nuggets. No one had expected the Magic to beat the Celtics or the Cavs, much less both, but here they were. The scene was set for the NBA Finals.
In a Game 1 beatdown, a dominant Kobe dropped 40 points while Dwight only managed a single basket. Knowing Stan Van Gundy's pedigree, Game 2 seemed destined to be a close one. Walking into the game with my family, I wore my Kobe Bryant #24 jersey. Inside Staples Center, the atmosphere was electric. Our seats were in the very top row of the very top section, but we were dead center and had a surprisingly good vantage point.
Quick sidebar: I know that the Lakers fans take a lot of heat for showing up late and being there for "the scene," but I’d like to call bulls#!@. The stadium was packed before tip-off and crowd noise was a major factor, with fans expertly helping support the Lake Show from start to finish. Before you dismiss me a homer, this was not my first rodeo. In Chicago, I saw a Bulls-Heat playoff game where Bulls fans showed up late, leading to a huge Heat run, and failed to have any kind of impact with their cheering. And they had plenty of practice with MJ! Just saying.
Game 2 didn’t start out as a barn-burner, with both teams combining for a paltry 30 points in the first quarter. In the second, Rashard Lewis caught fire, reminding everyone why he had earned a max contract BY scoring 18 of the 20 Magic points from all over the court. After a big first game, Kobe played the distributor role in the first half, finishing with six points and five assists. The Lakers held a five-point lead at the break.
The second half though? Ridiculous. It was a battle with both sides hitting back and forth shots until the bitter end. With 1:30 left, Rashard Lewis nailed a tough jumper to take a two-point lead. Kobe, who had some trouble with Hedo up until that point, answered right back with a tough make. Turkoglu jumper. D-Fish with a nasty feed to Gasol in the post. It was tied with 10 seconds left. Courtney Lee got free in the lane and missed an easy look in the paint. Whew.
With plenty left on the clock, we all thought it was Kobe’s time. Unfortunately for KB24, he got blocked from behind, leaving 0.6 seconds for the Magic to respond. SVG drew up an unbelievable play to open up Courtney Lee, who had a chance to win the game with an alley-oop at the buzzer. The entire arena gasped and held its breath until the shot rimmed out. That might have been the longest 0.6 seconds of my life.
The Lakers looked in control in OT – Derek Fisher had a big steal, Kobe made Kobe shots, and the Spaniard did his part. L.A. ultimately won 101-96, putting the Lakers up 2-0 on their way to an eventual gentleman’s sweep. With 29 points and eight assists against seven turnovers, Kobe had a good night, but it was the Lakers bigs that made the difference here. Pau and Odom combined for 42 points, 18 boards and fouur blocks on the night, more than holding their own against Dwight.
Going to a major playoff game is a huge gamble – it’s either an amazing celebration or an absolutely demoralizing loss. I’m so glad this one was a W - I’ll never forget what an exciting game it was. After Lee’s huge miss, I remember high-fiving everyone in sight on my way out of the stadium. Years later, my family and I still talk about this game and how satisfying it was to see Dwight "The Manchild" Howard lose in a heartbreaking fashion. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting this one anytime soon.