Rafer Alston Skips Back Into Favor
Instead he just played his game Tuesday night.
Alston had become the fall guy for the struggles of the Orlando Magic in the first two games of the NBA Finals -- and rightly so -- so it was only fitting that much of the credit for the turnaround in Game 3 was directed at him, too.
No one improved more in the Magic's 108-104 victory.
As the point guard, Alston has led them quietly to victories through this playoff run, but he also has anchored some of their worst defeats, most notably Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
He combined to hit just three of 17 shots in the first two games, missing all eight of his 3-point shots, prompting talk of a possible starting lineup change. But no one was talking like that after his Tuesday night performance when he hit eight of his 12 shots, including his only 3-pointer, for 20 points.
"It's a make-and-miss league. The first two games, I'm missing, and I look horrible. Tonight, I'm making, and I look good,'' he said. "Making shots, he left me in the game. If I was missing, he (Stan Van Gundy) would pull me out. It's pretty simple.''
Part of his problem in Los Angeles stemmed from the controversial return of All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson, who was activated for Game 1 after missing the previous four months following shoulder surgery.
And when Van Gundy played Nelson extensively as a reserve in Game 1, it changed the Magic's rotation and Alston's rhythm. The Magic acquired Alston from Houston this season only after Nelson was injured.
Yet it was Van Gundy who declared Tuesday morning that, "Jameer Nelson won't start any games in this series.'' He also reduced Nelson's role again, using him only 11 minutes.
Van Gundy and Nelson huddled after the Tuesday morning practice with the coach assuring the player that he would remain in the role he played through the second half of the season and throughout the playoffs.
"I'm a motivational genius,'' Van Gundy said jokingly. "I thought for two days what to say to him (Alston) and I just said `play your game.' It took me two days to come up with that.''
What it took was a confidence boost for Alston, and a return to the way he had been playing earlier. He never considered himself a 3-point shooter, but his role had evolved into one because of the way teams were playing against him.
"It's disappointing to go out there play so poorly. Tonight I was aggressive from start to finish,'' he said. "I was able to mix it up, and that's what I do best, instead of standing around the 3-point line like I was Ray Allen or somebody. Tonight I was able to penetrate, get to the foul line, shoot a pull-up jumper and find open men.''