Ariza sparks Lakers in second half

The Canadian Press

6/12/2009 12:52:10 AM

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It was a minor deal that sent Trevor Ariza from Orlando to Los Angeles in 2007.

It's now a major reason the NBA finals have swung back in the Lakers' favour.

Ariza rejuvenated a team that was lifeless in the first half with 13 points in the third quarter, then hit a tying three-pointer with 2:37 left in regulation as the Lakers rallied to beat the Magic 99-91 in overtime Thursday night and move a win away from a 15th championship.

"He just made big plays," Kobe Bryant said of Ariza. "He kept the floor spaced and knocked down shots."

Ariza was scoreless in the first half, continuing a disappointing finals on the offensive end. Then he nearly outscored the Magic by himself over the next 12 minutes as the Lakers surged into the lead.

"In the third quarter I just tried to come out and be aggressive," Ariza said. "When I'm aggressive early, it kind of gets our team going. Anything I can do to help my team win, that's what I'm going to try to do."

The forward has mostly been known for his defensive abilities since Los Angeles acquired him in the first month of the 2007-08 season for forward Brian Cook and swingman Maurice Evans.

He played tough defensively against Hedo Turkoglu on Thursday, but the Lakers couldn't have won this one without what he did on the other end.

"Turkoglu had a great first half and Trevor came out and just found something out there, made a big shot when the clock was running down on us, kind of a loose-ball situation," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He really carried a lot of energy for us the second half. We needed everything he could give us."

No longer just a slasher, Ariza has developed a fairly reliable jumper -- he shot 50 per cent from three-point range in the Western Conference playoffs -- and his perimeter shooting turned around a game that was all Orlando after the Magic opened a 49-37 halftime lead.

After going 9-for-30 in the first three games, Ariza missed all six attempts in the first half, when he was so frustrated he slammed the ball on the court after he was called for a foul and was then charged with a technical.

He came up with a steal and dunk early in the third for his first basket of the game, then did most of his damage away from the rim.

Ariza hit a 10-foot jumper, then buried two three-pointers a short time apart as the Lakers cut the lead to 54-53. He found Andrew Bynum under the basket, and after Bynum was fouled and hit the two free throws, Los Angeles was in the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter.

He had one more basket later in the period as Los Angeles outscored Orlando 30-14 in the quarter and got Turkoglu, the Magic's leading scorer in the first half, in foul trouble.

It looked as if the Lakers would waste his effort when Orlando recovered to take a three-point lead with under three minutes left in regulation. Then, with the shot clock about to expire after a scramble, Ariza fired in another three to tie the game 82-82.

Ariza's 16 points were double what he was averaging in the series, and he grabbed nine rebounds in 44 minutes. Not bad for a guy the Magic unloaded in part because they didn't think much of him as a shooter.

"I don't cry over the past or worry about spilled milk," Ariza said. "I'm just focused on my team and winning the championship."