Overview: After getting and losing yet another gigantic early lead, this one by 22 points, the Cavaliers outlasted the Magic to stay alive due to an absolutely massive performance down the stretch from LeBron James.
Well, the opening stretch was really good, but there was some Iron Sulfate going on there. The Cavs opened up 8-8 on shots outside of 15 feet, and the Magic started out 5-11, just to give you an idea. So the fact that we didn’t come close to sustaining that pace isn’t the biggest of surprises.
Really, defense was the entire difference between the Jekyll-and-Hyde 1st and 2nd quarters. Early on, the Cavs were getting turnovers and pushing the ball, disrupting entry passes and not letting the Magic get into any sor of offensive motion, and pushing the break and not being afraid to step into jumpers on the other end of the floor. I’m not sure why all the press on this series seems to be about what’s happening on the Cavs end offensively-112 points with these two defenses should mean a BLOWOUT.
And the Cavs were doing a lot of chasing in that second quarter. They still have nothing approaching an answer for Dwight Howard. Watching the game, I felt like we shut him down tonight. Box score: 24/10 on 8-10 from the field. He is just a freak and a monster, and I don’t see how to stop him without fouling him out.
The Cavs went under a lot of screens and let Hedo get his instead of letting him initiate the offense and get everyone else involved, and he stepped back into 29 points on 66% TS, but ultimately only had 2 assists and was never able to get Rashard going on those 3/4 Screen-Rolls they love. It was a good strategy. I think. Although Hedo’s not quite at the level like Dwight is where you concede him his 25+ points. Anyways, we won.
Rafer Alston hit his first shot, and promptly missed his next 9, and enjoyed a game-low +/- of -20. The law of averages, she is a tricky mistress.
Mickael Pietrus is just dangerous. Everyone, Cavs and Magic alike, are flat-out terrified of him whenever he steps out onto the court. Mickael, you have earned this video.
(In fact, does the Magic starting lineup fit as well as any into the Always Sunny role distribution for a gang of five? Dwight is the Muscle, Rashard is the Charm, Hedo is the brains, Rafer/Pietrus is Wild Card, and Courtney Lee is the useless rookie/perimeter defender. And by charm, I mean finesse player. And yet I digress.)
Offensively, the Magic were not good tonight. This is the first time all series I’ve really felt like they were jacking up threes indiscriminately, and outside of Hedo and Dwight being beastly there were not a lot of good things happening. Not a lot of ball movement, only one pick per possession, and only 12 assists. I’d like to say that was our defense, but mostly it looks like impatience and frustration-the type of stuff that happens more often on the road. Gulp.
Ben Wallace had no points and finished with a -19 in 16 minutes. Joe Smith needs his minutes. Like, right now.
Mo Williams stepping up and drilling 6 absolutely huge threes. A few on the step-back, one huge one in the fourth off the back-screen corner dive the Cavs love and have gone away from, a few on ball movement, awesome. Absolutely huge contribution from him. Although he went 1-5 from two-point land, and needs to recognize that Dwight is too fast and long to give him space on his little pull-up behind a screen.
Boobie Gibson with three huge threes, all off of penetration, all of them timely. Boobie, I have literally been waiting to use this picture since the day I started this site and have not had an appropriate opportunity. Tonight, you earned it. Also, I really want to use the picture. This shirt not available in stores.
Delonte West started out confident and making drives and using his quickness advantage to set himself up for mid-range jumpers, but lost some confidence in the second half and still can’t seem to find the touch on his corner threes.
And now we have reached LeBron James. Holy Lord. I mean, he wasn’t really even feeling it all that much this game. It’s just talent and will. Zero returns to the post, very little of him off the ball, just him going to the hole or pulling up for a mid-range J and not letting the team lose.
Where do you want to start? 37/14/12 against the best defense in the league? Are you joking me with that line? Is that real? Led the game in points, assists, rebounds, and offensive boards? Had as many assists AS THE MAGIC? (A note for those who think the Cavs were the team with stagnation problems in this game)
Scored or assisted on 61% of the team’s points. And the team scored 112 on the Magic.
And with the team a quarter away from elimination, down four with :39 seconds left, the Cavs outscored the Magic by 14 with LeBron taking the ball at the top of the key and scoring or assisting on every Cavaliers basket. Step-back jumpers. Move after move to the basket. Ridiculous feeds. The whole thing. That’s absolutely unheard of. In an elimination game, in the conference finals, against the league’s best defense. That is absurd. There is no way that should work. It’s never worked before. But it worked tonight.
The TNT guys were absolutely in awe. When Kenny asked Charles Barkley, who’s only one of the best scorers of all time and loved the ball from the free-throw line extended for face-up drives, if he’d ever been leaned on like that, Charles looked at Kenny like he’d just asked him where Ernie could score some PCP. They said “eventually LeBron will get tired,” which to Magic fans must sound like someone telling Roy Schneider in Jaws “Well, eventually we figure he’ll get full.”
It shouldn’t work. If Rashard Lewis missed one or two end-of-game threes, it would have. As it stands, it probably won’t. There’s been a valid question around the internet: why are we seeing so much of LeBron James’ face when his team is actually getting beat? In part, it’s because people paid a lot of money for ad packages before the series started and made a dire underestimation of the Magic. But a lot of it is because LeBron James is trying to beat a 58-win team with the best defensive player and team in the league by himself, and he somehow hasn’t missed doing it by that much. It is unprecedented for an elite team to rely on one player this much over the course of a 7-game series.
And so now the Cavs go to Orlando, where they haven’t won all year, to try and bring the series back to Cleveland. One road win. It might not happen. But if it does, the light does begin to emerge. There’s a shot. Not a bad one. Let’s see if we can pull it off.