In a playoff-intensity game, the Cavs scrapped to defend their home floor by edging out the Magic behind an epic 43/12/8 from LeBron James, who had a massive go-ahead three with 47 seconds to go.
Seriously, though, what was up with 6 turnovers from LeBron tonight? I kid.
LeBron James is more messianic than you are. Not only did he completely dominate this game, but he did it against a defense that was well set up and ready to take away his bread and butter from him. The jumper was absolutely in full effect, and this is as good as you’re going to see the inside/out game working from LeBron James.
Early on, you could see him coming out with determination and energy to take over the game and feel out his game, going to pull-ups, pushing the ball down the court on every steal and rebound and looking to get the basket or make the pass.
Absolutely everything LeBron did turned to gold tonight, be it working the high/low post to feed Anderson Varejao for a layup, feeding Mo as the safety valve if the Magic got overzealous with their traps up top, and especially working catch-and-shoot on the left side of the floor and absolutely raining jumpers.
On the left side of the floor, where he often worked a modified version of pick-and-pop with Mo Williams or pulled up if the helper went under the screen, LeBron went 4-5 from beyond the arc and 3-4 on deep 2s. (On the right and center of the court, LeBron was a combined 2-10 from outside of the paint. That about lines up with the general trend of perimeter players, who prefer to pull up to their weak hand and drive to their strong one, and LeBron’s hot spots.) It’s not a shot you can take away from LeBron, and by getting 22 of his 43 points tonight from out there, he was completely unstoppable.
As for crunch-time, he came up fairly large. In the fourth quarter, he had 15 points on 9 attempts and two assists for Mo Williams threes, which makes him responsible for 21 of the 25 Cavalier points in the fourth quarter. (A Joe Smith put-back and a Mo Williams pull-up accounted for the other four.)
And in the final moments, he was more than a little clutch. That three in front of the Magic bench? I mean, what can I say? He was absolutely feeling it, if he misses we likely as not lose, and the degree of difficulty was through the roof. Absolutely amazing. And sealing it with a savvy pump-fake and foul draw and two clutch free throws instead of getting caught up in the moment and trying a fadeaway dagger? Fantastic. And it’s about time we got some “M-V-P!” in the Q, and you’ve gotta love LeBron pumping up the crowd before icing the free throw to put the Cavs up two possessions. This is maybe the most talented player ever to pick up a basketball on an absolute mission. Enjoy every game.
As for the rest of the cast, there are fewer nice things to say. The two guys who absolutely came to play are Andy and Mo, which has become the norm over this stretch. Andy’s off-ball movement remains gorgeous, as he exploited Dwight Howard’s odd zone-like positioning for a few layups, and if he doesn’t pull down his fourth offensive rebound, there’s no LeBron three with 48 seconds left. This is the guy who was the second-best player on a finals team.
Mo Williams also didn’t have his game in full effect, but damned if he wasn’t the guy to knock in 8 absolutely gigantic fourth quarter points, including two perfect threes to catch the Magic cheating on traps of LeBron.
Meanwhile, the guy who used to play the role of clutch shooter spent his 2nd consecutive game benched, and Pavs failed to get a point with his minutes. Wally sprained his knee, so it MIGHT FINALLY BE TK time. I gotta say, this is not the best time of year to be inconsistent with our player rotations and defensive fundamentals. But it’s not the worst time of the year, either. You take what you get.
Okay, maybe I was a little excited about Joe Smith.
Delonte and Z really need to get their shots back working-it makes a world of difference when they’re spacing the defense from deep and midrange and the offense can start to snowball rather than making every possession a two-man game or ISO. And Delonte missing two open threes in crunch-time nearly killed us. Slump happens, I suppose.
Bullets of Randomness:
This is pretty much the game to show why Howard isn’t quite on that MVP level yet (as I see it, tier one is LeBron, Kobe, CP3, and Wade)-he was dominant defensively and pulling in rebounds, but after looking like a bona fide offensive force the last time we saw him and the last game he played, he was almost invisible on that end tonight, showing some nice hooks and even passes out of double-teams but ultimately only getting 13 points on 8 shots.
A lot of that isn’t his fault-this team loves the three-ball, and doesn’t play as disciplined as it should. This is where going from a Jameer to a Skip really hurts you, even if Skip’s drilling his shots.
Speaking of, SCREW YOU DARYL MOREY FOR GIVING AWAY SKIP AND KEEPING THE MAGIC CONTENDERS. I WILL NOT READ THE BASKETBALL VERSION OF MONEYBALL IF IT’S ABOUT YOU. (Actually, if Michael Lewis writes it, I’ll definitely read it.) BUT I WILL BORROW IT. I REFUSE TO GIVE MONEY TO YOUR EVIL.
Actually, since Morey got Lowry, the best player in that deal, the blame would probably go to Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace. So of the four championship contenders, two are there because of Chris Wallace handouts. I don’t like you, Chris Wallace. Real contenders do it the honorable way-with handouts from Kevin McHale and John Hammond.
So, Courney Lee, who went 9-13, D-d up like a monster, and almost beat us during crunch time: 1.2 million dollars. Rashard Lewis, who went 3-15, took terrible shots early in the clock, got 4 rebounds, defended nobody, and kept the Magic from winning: 16.5 million dollars. That’s just fun.
Why nobody wanted Mickael Pietrus, the French Bruce Bowen, as he begged out of Golden State for three years, is completely beyond me. Championship teams have guys like him. That he, unlike Bowen, doesn’t give a crap just makes him more intriguing.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go die. Happy St. Patrick’s day.