Magic show grit, Cavaliers finally getting tested; more observations
Five playoff thoughts -- or should we say, fi' playoff thoughts, while setting aside any notion of fo', fo', fo' and fo' for the Cleveland Cavaliers ...
The twain rarely meet in the NBA -- perimeter-oriented teams frequently get characterized as "soft,'' while more resilient clubs typically demonstrate that by forcing action inside and getting to the line for ugly wins. But Orlando, in rallying for a 3-2 series deficit against Boston last week, proved wrong critics who felt it was as squeezable as Charmin, and it did it again Wednesday night in its 107-106 comeback victory (
Sure, the Magic jump-shot themselves back into the game, hitting 62.5 percent (35-of-56) over the final three quarters after a 8-of-22 start. Sure, seven of their nine three-pointers came after intermission. But they took care of business in more gritty ways, too. Such as their 50 points in the paint. Their 36-33 rebounding edge. The 19 points they allowed in the third quarter. And the discipline to whittle the Cavaliers' 15- point halftime lead down to nothing -- in fact, an 85-84 Orlando lead -- over the first 14 minutes of the second half. None of that NBA cliché alibiing ("They used up so much energy clawing back that they had nothing left'') from the Magic. They stayed focused, they stayed true to the things that got them this far --
"They hit us first,'' said
Lewis added: "Coach mentioned to us on the bench that we'd been in tough situations like this in the playoffs. Cleveland hadn't.''
Orlando's defense put the Cavaliers into a way-back machine, Cleveland reverting down the stretch to its retro LeBron and Four Guys Watching mode. It surely planted doubts, too, with the way it blew past the Cavs' playoff standards -- from a 78.1 defensive average to 107 points allowed, from an 8-0 record built on an average scoring margin of +16.8 points to this deflating home loss. Don't forget, either, that when the teams met in April in central Florida, the Magic waltzed in a 116-87 victory and now have won three of four meetings since November.
Asked about that possible tactic before the series -- accepting the impossibility of containing James, so clamping down as much as possible on his teammates -- Orlando coach
Or, in this case, 49. James set his personal playoff high, topping that memorable game in 2007 against Detroit when he scored 48, by hitting 20 of his 30 field-goal attempts. He had 16 of Cleveland's 18 during a late stretch in the first half, and eight in the game's final four minutes. But James was dragging when coach
Van Gundy got some nice mileage out of
"If that were my formula, it still got them 107 points and great shooting,'' the Orlando coach told reporters afterward. "The one thing I don't leave this game with is any idea what to do with him whatsoever. You'd like to come out of Game 1 and say, 'At least we found a game plan that will work.' We can't say that.''
Enough already with the red carpet. This is competition, not a coronation. The Cavaliers had breezed through two rounds with eight easy victories, all decided by double digits. They had nine days to lounge around after dispatching Detroit, eight days to laze about after smacking down Atlanta. Those days are done, and you get the sense Cleveland -- the team anyway, not the fans -- is fine facing a tougher go of it.
"It's always good,'' James said. "Nobody said it was going to be easy.''
The beauty of the playoffs are the adjustments required, as two opponents learn each other's game plans almost as thoroughly as they know their own. The Cavaliers barely did any of that through their first two series. Now, finally, we get to see their championship resolve -- if it exists -- emerge. Something tells me, if Brown has anything to say about it, Orlando won't be shooting 55 percent from the field Friday night.
He got it, too. As if the Cavaliers hadn't waited long enough to get busy again, they and the Magic had to deal with a delay of nearly 8½ minutes after Howard, on a dunk for Orlando's first points, caused the shot clock atop that basket to collapse backward. It was replaced for the rest of the first half by old-fashioned, boxy clocks in the corners of the court, then swapped out at halftime for a completely new stanchion.
The Orlando center scored 13 more baskets and finished with 30 points, but he was watching helplessly from the side for the game's last 25.6 seconds, picking up his sixth foul on a shaky call when James attacked him inside. Lewis scored eight of the Magic's final 12 points and Turkoglu was a revelation directing the attack. He scored nine points in the fourth quarter, snookered
Orlando's reserves outscored the backup Cavs 25-5. You might argue that they had to, given that the Magic were more worn down (they played seven games against Boston, with a couple of flights mixed into their 72-hour turnaround). But that doesn't excuse the chintzy contributions from