Magic come up short despite Howard's heroic efforts

The Canadian Press

6/12/2009 1:20:27 AM

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Superman capes were left crinkled up under the seats after a record-setting performance by Dwight Howard couldn't prevent more Magic misery in the NBA finals.

Howard set a finals record with nine blocked shots, had 16 points and 21 rebounds, but the all-star centre missed eight free throws -- including a pair that could have sealed a win in regulation -- and the Magic lost 99-91 in overtime to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night to go down 3-1 in the series.

"I just missed them," said Howard. "I've been working on my free throws. They just weren't falling tonight. There's no need to get down on myself. I think I did a lot of good things tonight, just my free throws weren't there."

Orlando was ahead 87-84 with 11.1 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when Howard was fouled. Taking a deep breath and relaxing his shoulders, Howard took the ball and bounced it each time before he shot.

Clank. Clank.

Howard, who had been shooting 65 per cent from the line in the post-season, finished 6-for-14. The Magic were 22-for-37.

"How would you feel? Pretty bad, right? He's obviously upset," Magic guard J.J. Redick said. "It's a disappointing way to lose -- 11 seconds up three with two free throws. You at least feel you're going to get another trip to the free throw line because they have to foul. End up losing in overtime."

All those bricks brought back memories of the Magic's only other finals appearance, when Nick Anderson missed four consecutive free throws at the end of Game 1 of the 1995 finals. Orlando never recovered and was swept 4-0 by the Houston Rockets.

These finals looked just the same.

Derek Fisher hit a three-pointer to send the game into overtime and another big one in overtime. Now the Magic will face a true must-win in Game 5 on Sunday.

Howard looked like he was going to bring the Magic to a 2-2 series tie, but Orlando blew a 12-point halftime lead and collapsed in the final minute of regulation. Howard had seven turnovers in the game and missed another free throw in overtime.

"It's tough for him," Magic point guard Rafer Alston said. "He played a great game. I'm not going to base his performance or anything like that on one free throw."

It was another excruciating loss for the Magic. Another game they had plenty of opportunities to win. It's been that way all series and throughout the franchise's history

Magic guard Courtney Lee missed an alley-oop attempt at the regulation buzzer in Game 2, a potential-game winner that was only magnified after Orlando lost in overtime. This franchise has seen plenty of other heartbreak.

Shaquille O'Neal bolting for Los Angeles after the 1995-96 season. Grant Hill's constant injuries, and so many potent Magic teams led by Tracy McGrady that never made it past the first round.

It seems to only be getting more painful.

While the Magic have climbed back from nearly every obstacle this season -- injuries, playoff deficits and buzzer-beaters -- this one might be too tough to overcome. Only eight NBA teams have come back from a 3-1 hole in a best-of-seven series.

"We can't hang our heads," Howard said. "We still believe. There's no reason to have any doubts right now."