Recap: (7) All of a sudden, A big number.

May 27th, 2009 by John Krolik

Overview: In a hard fought-game the whole way, the Cavs barely took it to overtime and got outplayed in the period, losing by two to the Magic. The Cavs need three wins in a row to stay alive. 


All bullets are in stream-of-consciousness order. 

I mean, I don’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say four hours ago and I don’t know what to say now. This was a winnable game. A very winnable game. And the Cavs lost it. The second very winnable game they’ve lost in this series. And now it’s 3-1. We’re a second away from being swept in this series. Times are bleak. 

I guess we start with LeBron, right? That’s what we’re supposed to do? Because LeBron and Kobe are the only players that matter in this postseason? Because everything that happens in the conference finals is a function of them? 

LeBron was amazing, great, the best player in the planet. But he was very, very far from perfect. Oh so very far. 

Do you focus on what he gave you? The best post play of his career in a big game, 44/12/7 on 58% TS against the best defense in the league? A game-tying play with four seconds left to play? Almost every point in overtime? Two threes in the extra period, one of them of a ridiculous fashion to keep the team in the game? If you Believe, there’s plenty for you. But if you’re brainwashed, if you’re determined to find fault, if you need to buy into the idea that LeBron and Kobe is what’s being decided right now, if every play is revealing his character, there’s plenty for you guys, too. 

Turnovers, too many turnovers, down the stretch. Going for the dagger jumper on the final full Cavs possession. instead of driving and trying to put the game today. Missing one of two free throws the possession before. If Hedo takes the clock down on the final posession and makes a shot with time expiring, this is an unforgiveable choke. But he didn’t. And it wasn’t. Same game, different story. If he’d made that final ridiculous 35-footer, and it had a chance, he’s got. But he didn’t. And he’s not. This is LeBron. This is Water. This is Water. This is Water. Greatness, unbelievable greatness, unprecedented greatness, but there are questions. There will always be questions. There is an argument to be made, with facts, against LeBron. Glen Beck has enough facts to fill an hour a day with his arguments. It’ll still be wrong. But the argument exists. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to talk about the game, which is my job. 

The team got stagnant offensively in the 2nd half. For long stretches. I called it at halftime of the live-blog, and I hate being right. I rarely am, so it’s not something I deal with often. All the good things near the end of the first half-LeBron in the post, LeBron off the ball, Delonte making drives-are things that the team the team loses confidence in in the second half. And LeBron driving to the basket against a defense that knows he’s coming has worked in many a stretch run. But not against the best defensive team in the league. And when it wasn’t LeBron pounding, it was Mo dribbling in circles, or Wally or Andy forcing a shot, or Delonte forcing a shot. Miserable offense 1-5. Miserable, miserable, miserable. 

Real simple diagnosis: Here’s a ranking of who the best players on the floor were tonight:

1. LeBron

2. Dwight

3. Rafer

4. Hedo

5. Rashard

6. Pietrus

7. Delonte

We need somebody in spots 2-6. That’s just a fact. It’s just what needs to happen. 

Another thing: 6 threes from the Cavs. 4 by LeBron off the dribble. 2 by Boobie, one contested and one off the dribble. That’s zero sucessful drive-and-kicks. This is not how to crack that defense. Threes must be made. 

The non-LeBron unit: -8 in 4 minutes. 2-point loss. Terrible. 

Something my Dad told me a long time ago seems to ring true about the Magic team. My Dad had a friend who was in the military (disclaimer: SVG is right-basketball is not war. There are troops overseas risking their lives every day. This is a game. Important to rembember. But some principles ring true), and a guiding principle is that every soldier, no matter what the rank, should know the mission, and, at all times, should be qualified to make decisions when the chain of command breaks down. Every player on this Magic team is prepared to make the play, make the shot, at any time. Go under one screen, cut off one option, two options, and the man with the ball in his hands is ready to make the shot. The Cavs team is still looking for LeBron to provide guidance, to make the play. The Magic are functioning as a unit ready to take a good shot at any time, whenever it presents itself. That’s not risky basketball, live or die basketball. That’s how the game should be played. 5 players, all dangerous and waiting to make the play if it presents itself. 

Rafer Alston is the best example of this; the Cavs were sagging hard on Rashard and Hedo, going under Rafer and not helping off them in any circumstance. Rafer was ready to make the shots, and he did. Absolutely monstrous. That’s the play the defense allows, and the play that got made. You live with it, except now you’re down 1-3 and really not living with it.

What do you do against this offense? Tonight, they decided to cut off Hedo and Rashard and gave up looks to Dwight and Rafer. All night long, they made the plays. 3rd and 4th options ready to be 1st and 2nd options when the situation calls. 

A million little plays. LeBron misses a free throw down the stretch. Delonte slips running for a long rebound. Rashard hits a turnaround three. LeBron makes a turnover early in OT miscommunicating with Booibe. LeBron throws a fast-break pass to a Magic player. Boobie misses two open threes down the stretch. LeBron doesn’t get three free throws on an up-fake in OT, and Z gets a 2. Pietrus steps up and gets a three when the Cavs go under a double-screen in OT. Those are all more important than LeBron missing a 35-footer. 

On the final plays of the fourth quarter: LeBron drove hard. He didn’t really have a shot. He went down. He got the call. It’s not my job to discuss the refs. He got 2 points in 4 seconds. It was a good play. I’m just glad he made the free-throws. And Dwight didn’t get a call with contact under the basket. Not an automatic call. The game isn’t decided by message boards, it’s decided by the scoreboard. And both plays worked on the scoreboard. That’s all I can tell you. 

Delonte was agressive and did everything right except hit the threes off LeBron penetration that we needed to break this defense. 

Give Dwight Howard a lot of credit. Most big men go their entire careers, even Hall of Fame careers, without a clutch takeover like he had. There was no answer for him down the stretch, and he made the big free throws. The Cavs can’t guard him. This team, offensively, so dangerous. They’re like Lyoto Machida. They strike where you don’t expect it, and there’s no way to cover it all. The Cavs can play great defense for 4 rotations and still give up a good shot to the 4th option. 

Great job on the boards tonight from Cleveland. 

That’s all I can give you tonight. I’m sorry. I wish there was more. There’s just not. What I will say: Take care of business at home. Then, game 6, make that a must-win for Orlando. Sorry to be unladylike, but sphincters will tighten on Orlando’s side. This series is far from over. But it’s much further from being over on Cleveland’s side. We’re a second away from having been swept. But we’re alive. They still have to beat us, for 48 minutes, one more time. We won’t make it easy. I hope. 

You know what my friend’s girlfriend did to occupy her mind tonight during the game? She quilted. Equally silly, much less emotional pain. Go quilt. That’s as close I can come to giving comforting words.