ORLANDO, FLA. — When his teammates needed him most, point guard Rafer Alston reminded the Orlando Magic why it acquired him in the first place.
Alston, whose horrid shooting and erratic playmaking in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals hamstrung the Magic offense, rediscovered his game Tuesday night, keying the Magic to a 108-104 win over the Lakers in Game 3.
Alston scored 20 points on eight-for-12 shooting -- a stark contrast to his performance earlier in the series. In the Finals' first two games, he scored a total of 10 points and made only 17.6% of his shots.
"I just wanted to come in and be aggressive tonight and set the tone," Alston said.
Orlando entered Tuesday night needing improved play from all of its guards. And while Jameer Nelson and Courtney Lee had lackluster games offensively, the Magic received 18 points from Mickael Pietrus and benefited from Alston's four assists.
Entering Tuesday, the Orlando guards who had played in the series' first two games -- Alston, Lee, Nelson, Pietrus and J.J. Redick -- combined for 53 points in the first two games. They shot only 20 of 69 from the field. They totaled just 13 assists.
The backcourt players' inability to knock down shots made it easier for the Lakers to double-team Dwight Howard in the post. The defensive strategy made Howard less of a scoring threat.
The point guard spot, in particular, had been a sore point for Orlando. The return of Nelson after a four-month layoff from a right shoulder injury was supposed to give the Magic an extra weapon. Instead, it appeared to knock Alston out of his rhythm.
Alston had so much shooting trouble in Game 2 -- and Nelson looked so out of sync -- that Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy chose to have forward Hedo Turkoglu to bring the ball up the court during the crucial fourth quarter.
Alston played only 26 minutes in Game 2. He played 37 minutes Tuesday, looking confident with his outside shot and often penetrating into the lane.
Nelson finished Tuesday with two points and two assists in 11 minutes. He spelled Alston at the start of the fourth quarter with Orlando leading, 81-75. Nelson returned to the bench 4 minutes 47 seconds later, with the Magic ahead, 91-84.
Pietrus gave Orlando a 101-99 lead after he followed up a Turkoglu miss with an offensive rebound and a dunk.
With 28.7 seconds left, Pietrus recorded a steal and incurred a foul by Kobe Bryant. Pietrus made the ensuing two foul shots to put the Magic ahead, 106-102.
Alston's struggles early in the Finals prompted speculation that Van Gundy would put Nelson into the starting lineup, but Van Gundy quashed that notion following the Magic's shoot-around Tuesday.
"I'm not going to start Jameer in this series," Van Gundy said.