Magic Overcome James' 41 Points to Take 2-1 LeadLeBron James scored 41 points, dished for nine assists and grabbed seven rebounds but he shot just 11-28 from the field--including 2-15 on perimeter shots--and he missed five fourth quarter free throws as the Orlando Magic defeated his Cleveland Cavaliers 99-89 to grab a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Dwight Howard led the Magic with 24 points despite being limited to 28 minutes due to foul trouble (he eventually fouled out). Howard had nine rebounds and no blocked shots but he shot 14-19 from the free throw line, well above his normal percentage. Howard received significant help from Rafer Alston (18 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals), Mickael Pietrus (16 points, six rebounds) and Rashard Lewis (15 points). Hedo Turkoglu shot just 1-11 from the field but he made 11 of 12 free throws to finish with 13 points in addition to playing an excellent floor game (10 rebounds and seven assists).
Depth was a major strength for the Cavs this season but that has not been the case during this series. All-Star Mo Williams--whose face was bloodied by a flagrant foul from Anthony Johnson and looked a little like Mitch "Blood" Green's face did after his infamous late-night encounter with Mike Tyson--scored 15 points but shot just 5-16 from the field. Williams is shooting a miserable .321 from the field versus Orlando. Delonte West scored 12 points on 5-11 field goal shooting and he is shooting just .419 from the field in this series. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had just nine points on 3-10 shooting, which is right in line with his averages in this series (10.3 ppg, .382 field goal shooting). No other Cav scored more than four points!
For all of the talk about the mismatch advantages that Orlando enjoys on offense versus Cleveland, the real story of this series so far--other than James' big three point shot to win game two--has been Orlando's defense; the Magic have essentially shut down every Cavalier not named LeBron James. Cleveland held Orlando to .429 field goal shooting in this game and that would normally be a winning number--except for the fact that the Cavs shot even worse than that (.372) and committed 15 turnovers, several of which would be termed "unforced errors" in tennis.
There is a tendency during playoff series to overreact to the outcome of the most recent game. The next game will have a different officiating crew, a different rhythm and a different storyline. Howard is unlikely to repeat his free throw marksmanship but Turkoglu is also unlikely to make just one field goal. The Cavs are playing well enough defensively but they must cut down on the sloppy turnovers and figure out how to get some solid offensive contributions from a supporting cast that helped this team win an NBA-best 66 games this season. If the Cavs can do those things then they will win game four and turn this into a three game mini-series with two of the games being played in Cleveland; otherwise, they will face the daunting task of coming back from a 3-1 deficit--and even though the Cavs rallied from an 0-2 start to beat the Pistons four straight times in the 2007 playoffs they certainly do not want to paint themselves into that kind of precarious corner.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:57 AM