Game 3: How did the Magic do it? And can they do it again?


The Magic went from shooting 29.9% in game 1, to setting an NBA Finals record for shooting percentage in a half (75%), and an NBA Finals record for best shooting percentage for a game (62.5%).

Normally, when a team shoots THIS well, it is because they got a lot of inside shots and transition points, but not so this game with the Orlando Magic.


The Lakers actually had more points in the paint than the Magic (40 to 36), and both teams had 10 fast break points.

So how did the Magic shoot so well?

The Magic were just SO ACTIVE physically, while mentally they PATIENTLY created scoring opportunities for themselves as a team.

Nothing was rushed, but everything was quick and aggressive.


Contrary to what some are writing, the Orlando Magic did NOT speed up the pace of game 3 of the 2009 NBA Finals. In fact, statistically it can be proven that Game 3 of the 2009 NBA Finals had the slowest pace of all three Finals games so far for the Orlando Magic (1.33 shots per minute).

The game SEEMED faster because the Magic, energized by their home crowd, played with far greater energy and activity than they did in previous games against the Lakers, moving both the ball and their feet better than ever, but this was not D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns in their prime — the pace of this game was not faster than the previous two Finals games.

Game 1:
Magic = 77 shots (1.6 shots per minute)
Lakers = 89 shots (1.85 shots per minute)
Game Pace = 3.46 shots per minute

Game 2: (overtime)
Magic = 79 (1.52 shots per minute)
Lakers = 78 (1.63 shots per minute)
Game Pace = 2.96 shots per minute

Game 3:
Magic = 64 (1.33 shots per minute)
Lakers = 78 (1.63 shots per minute)
Game Pace = 2.96 shots per minute

So, how did the Orlando Magic do it?


Look at ball movement. The Magic had more assists in game 3 than the other games, but more telling is their assists to shot attempts ratio:

Orlando Magic’s Assists to Shot Attempts ratio:
Game 1 = .13
Game 2 = .28
Game 3 = .36

Admittedly, this is a squirrely indicator of ball movement, but short of rewatching all 3 games and counting the passes and calculating the passes per minute (and perhaps per possession), it’s the best we’ve got readily available.


The Magic got the ball down court quickly, even after made baskets, forcing the Lakers’ defense to react (and in many cases over react). As Orlando countered the Lakers reactions, the Magic found themselves playing most of the game in proactive mode and Lakers in reactive mode. The Lakers played back on their heels, scrambling from one person and one spot to another, sometimes successfully getting a stop, not usually.

The Magic’s shooting percentage was the fruit of aggressive ball and people movement which fed Orlando’s confidence and put the Lakers back on their heels, then Orlando got into a groove and did not let up on doing what was working.

That doesn’t explain ALL of that success though. Post game, Stan Van Gundy said, “Our ball movement was good, but I don’t care how good your ball movement is and the quality of shot you get, uou’re not going to put the ball in the basket at that rate very often. But it’s one of those nights, thankfully, that a lot of shots went down.”


Also, look at the following statistics carefully:

o 71% of the Magic’s shots were jump shots in game 1.
o 70% of the Magic’s shots were jump shots in game 2.
o 77% of the Magic’s shots were jump shots in game 3.

o The Magic shot 23 3-pointers in game 1.
o The Magic shot 30 3-pointers in game 2.
o The Magic shot 14 3-pointers in game 3.

That’s another reason Orlando’s shooting percentage was better: they shot more midrange jumpers and less 3-pointers.

That happens to be what Larry Brown’s Detroit Pistons did when they won the NBA Finals.

  1. JasonJason08-03-2009

    Great sports blog man. I’m going to visit here more often. I have a sports blog myself and I would like to exchange links with you. Let me know. Jason

  2. J the DrafterJ the Drafter08-29-2009

    We had a wretched point guard situation that series. Luckily Gundy was able to get Rafer comfortable, and with him rocking, setting the tone, and acting as another weapon, we had enough tools to get through the Lakers’ D.

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