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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Witness This! James' Last Second Three Pointer Saves Cavs

This time, "The Shot" electrified Cleveland instead of adding yet another chapter to the star-crossed city's long history of devastating postseason disappointments: LeBron James drilled a tough, contested three pointer as time expired to lift the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 96-95 victory over the Orlando Magic in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals. Just seconds earlier, Hedo Turkoglu had nailed a midrange jumper to apparently sink Cleveland in a 2-0 hole but Turkoglu left exactly one second on the clock and that was just enough time for James to make what has to be considered the signature play of his career thus far, a high-arcing shot launched over Turkoglu from well behind the three point line. James finished with 35 points on 12-23 field goal shooting, five assists and four rebounds. Mo Williams added 19 points, five assists and five rebounds; he only shot 7-21 from the field but he made three clutch jumpers in the final 5:07 to help keep the Cavaliers in contention. Zydrunas Ilgauskas contributed 12 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots, while Delonte West had 12 points on 4-7 shooting and five rebounds in a game-high 45:33 of playing time. Rashard Lewis led Orlando with 23 points and Turkoglu scored 21 points but Dwight Howard had just 10 points on 3-8 field goal shooting, though he did grab a game-high 18 rebounds; three of Howard's field goal attempts were blocked, matching the number of shots he made and exceeding the number of Cleveland shots that he blocked (two).

Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller had a very interesting discussion after the game regarding Turkoglu's defense against James on the final play. Miller insisted that Turkoglu gave James too much room and that after Turkoglu denied the first option--a lob pass to James at the rim--Turkoglu should have done whatever was necessary to stay in contact with James, even if that meant grabbing his arm; Miller said that the referees would not call a foul in that situation and that even if they did that the free throws would only potentially tie the game instead of putting Cleveland ahead. Barkley and Smith countered that Turkoglu did everything humanly possible and that James just made an incredible shot. Smith recalled that his college coach Dean Smith used to say that sometimes you just have to shake hands with the other team and move on and Barkely echoed that sentiment. Miller maintained that if he had that much room he could make that shot right now and, after a moment's thought, Smith agreed with that but said that Miller has a different perspective about this play than perhaps anyone else on Earth because Miller has made so many clutch shots. I agree with Barkley and Smith; James' shot may seem "easy" from Miller's unique point of view but it is hard to rationally conceive of anything else that Turkoglu could have done. Smith noted that one thing Orlando could have tried was to station the 6-10 Lewis directly in front of inbounds passer Mo Williams to obstruct his view, much like the Lakers did with Lamar Odom versus Anthony Carter in game one of the Western Conference Finals, leading to Trevor Ariza's game-saving steal. However, considering the fact that only one second remained it is understandable that the Magic wanted to force the Cavs to make a pass away from the hoop.

The Cavaliers built a 23 point first half lead and did not trail until late in the fourth quarter, mirroring how they led by as many as 16 points in game one and were ahead for most of that game, but there were some significant strategic differences between the two contests, as TNT's Doug Collins expertly noted during the telecast: the Cavs were much more active defensively in game two, they took fouls on Howard when he got the ball in the paint rather than letting him dunk, they got the ball to Ilgauskas in the post--particularly in the first half--and they brought Sasha Pavlovic out of mothballs, receiving significant contributions (nine points on 4-7 field goal shooting) from a talented player who started for the Cavs when they made it to the NBA Finals in 2007.

Another key factor in this series is that James is a player who not only can make last second shots but he can score 40 points or more in any given game, an ability that Howard has yet to demonstrate. People who think that Orlando will win this series emphasize that none of Cleveland's frontcourt players can guard Howard one on one but my contention is that this does not ultimately matter; the Cavs can continue to change their coverages depending on the situation--sometimes doubling Howard, other times singling him and almost always fouling him rather than letting him dunk--and it is unlikely that he will have another 30 point outing like he did in game one, which means that the series would then boil down to James and his shooters/supporting cast versus Turkoglu, Lewis and the Magic's other three point shooters.

While some people will say that Cleveland is one last second shot away from trailing 2-0, the same thing could be said of Orlando, because if the Cavs had run Lewis off of the three point line late in game one then Cleveland could be up 2-0. Even though many commentators are focusing on the adjustments the Cavs supposedly need to make and Orlando's alleged matchup advantages the reality is that the Cavs have enjoyed the lead for the majority of the first 96 minutes played so far in this series, often being ahead by double digits. Is it more likely that during the remaining games in this series Orlando will make some adjustments to avoid falling behind by 10-plus points or that the Cavaliers will again take double-digit leads but start to figure out how to hold on to them? I think that the answer to that question is going to surprise a lot of media members who have been underestimating the Cavs--and their coach--for the past several years.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:28 AM

10 comments

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10 Comments:

At Saturday, May 23, 2009 1:55:00 AM, Anonymous King Lebron James said...

A 23 footer with a 6'10 guy flying at him after said 6'10 hits tough hanger in land to put them ahead and after they blew 23 point lead and could have went down 2-0. Amazing.

Lebron is separating himself from the rest of the league.

 
At Saturday, May 23, 2009 2:13:00 AM, Anonymous dmills said...

David,

Great game! Hell of a shot by Lebron James. As for Orlando, they'll be fine. The series has pretty much gone the way that I wrote about in your Orlando vs Cleveland preview. So far it has followed every regular season trend and I have yet to see any difference, including the last second shot by James! Orlando should really pound Cleveland in game 3, win comfortably in game 4 and should be up 3-1 going back to Cleveland. This match up issue sn't going to go away for Cleveland.

Clevelands problem again is style of play. They are used to playing defense a certain way and dictating to teams how the pace will be played. A team like Orlando forces Cleveland to scramble to find match up's for the Magic and as a result they get out of character. Cleveland at heart is a middle of the pack passing team ( in terms of team assists) that when pushed will always revert to either ISO basketball or drive and dish with Lebron. I don't trust teams that lean on one guy to creat the majority of plays and I especially don't trust teams that have pyschological dependence on their home court. At first I thought that Cleveland would win a tough 6 game series but now I am saying Orlando will win the series.

 
At Saturday, May 23, 2009 2:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dmills:

The series is tied 1-1 and realistically it could easily be 2-0 either way.

The Cavs do not depend exclusively on homecourt advantage; they went 27-14 on the road during the regular season, tied for the second best such mark in the league. They are 4-0 on the road in this year's playoffs and, regardless of what one thinks of the strength of the teams they played, it is rare to sweep consecutive playoff series. James and several other Cavs also have experience winning road playoff games in hostile environments in previous seasons. I highly doubt that Orlando will "pound" Cleveland in game three; in fact, I expect that Cleveland will win game three and assume control over the series.

You have a lot of confidence in a team that has spent the vast majority of this series trailing, often by double digits. If the Magic are the only team in this series that enjoys matchup advantages why do they keep falling so far behind? Most people are simply not taking an objective, correct look at this series. Orlando had an opportunity to take a stranglehold 2-0 lead against a superior team but James nullified that with a great shot and I don't think that the Magic will have another chance like that again this series.

There is nothing that the Cavs did to take those big leads that they are incapable of doing again, even on the road.

 
At Saturday, May 23, 2009 3:22:00 AM, Blogger Duke said...

Regarding your observation that Cleveland has led for so many of the 96 series minutes so far: I'm a Lakers fan and this is the exact point I've been making to friends who parrot the media's obsession with L.A.'s penchant for 'blowing' big leads. Seems to happen time and time again, huh? Well wouldn't every team in the rest of the league like to be accused of the same thing? Because it would mean you were constantly building big leads. I wonder how many big leads the Clippers blew? Or even Atlanta, a playoff team? The fact is, good teams are the ones who most often get big leads.

Sure, fans (myself included) always want continual acceleration. A 10 pt. lead should be stretched to 20 pts. etc. But it just doesn't happen that way.

What happens is that good teams build leads. Inferior teams might make them 'blow' the lead, but once that has occurred, the game is more or less tied and the trailing team has actually 'blown' a whole lot of adrenaline and energy just getting back to square one.

Anyway, you get the idea. Every good team 'blows' leads. I'd rather be the one blowing them than the poor also-rans who are always trying (and usually failing) to come back.

 
At Saturday, May 23, 2009 12:39:00 PM, Anonymous dmills said...

King LeBron James,

While it was a great shot let's not get crazy. There is a guy in this league that has hit quite a few of those in his career. He play's for the LA Lakers. You may have heard of him. But then again we all suffer from recency bias and tend to forget that there is nothing new under the sun.

 
At Saturday, May 23, 2009 2:28:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

David, it almost seems like if the Lakers were in Cleveland's position you'd be writing about this a little differently.

It is true that the series could easily be 2-0 (in either team's favor). However, giving up big leads two games in a row at home is something I did not expect to see from the Cavs. If the Lakers had done this, everyone would be saying (rightfully) that the Lakers' inability to put teams away is alarming. Of course, you can flip it around and say it's alarming for the Magic that they are almost always trailing. But being in a position to lose after almost always leading (like the Cavs have been) is troubling no matter how you look at it.

It will be interesting to see whether the Magic can take charge earlier in games when the series shifts to Orlando. If the games continue to remain this close, I'd give Cleveland the edge, simply because LeBron is so difficult to contain when he takes it to the hoop. I think the Magic dodged some bullets when LeBron was unable to generate points on several of his late-game drives.

From an outsider's perspective, a Game 3 loss seems like it would be very crushing for the Magic. They would trail 1-2 after almost going up 2-0, and LeBron's shot might haunt them even more. I think whoever wins Game 3 will win the series.

 
At Saturday, May 23, 2009 3:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Duke:

What has been more troubling for the Lakers in this year's playoffs is not so much blowing leads as simply coming out flat at the start of the game, particularly in some of the games in the Houston series; the Lakers looked like they were not ready to play, much like Orlando has looked at the start of both games of this series.

 
At Saturday, May 23, 2009 3:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I am surprised that the Cavs have blown two leads at home but this is very atypical for the Cavs and I believe that it will be easier for the Cavs to correct that problem than for the Magic to figure out how not to fall behind. I am not saying that the Magic will fall behind by double digits at home but the Magic have to find ways to counter some of the things that the Cavs are doing.

I agree that game three is very important. Reggie Miller said that he thinks that Orlando will have to win twice in Cleveland (i.e. one more time) because the Cavs will likely win a game in Orlando. I agree with that and that is one of the major reasons that I picked the Cavs to win the championship before the playoffs started: even if they lose a home game in a series, they likely will win at least one road game and thus restore homecourt advantage.

The Magic are resilient and I don't necessarily think that there will be a carryover from game two once game three begins; I just think that the Cavs can do some things defensively to control the Magic and that the Magic will continue to have problems dealing with James, who could end up with some historical numbers in this series.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 5:07:00 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

The Magic are a tough matchup for Cleveland. They took the season series 2-1 with a couple of blowout home wins and a narrow loss at the Q. The forward tandem of Lewis and Turkoglu poses a major challenge because Varejao has step outside to guard Lewis.

I still expect Cleveland to take the series in 6 or 7, but they have to get more out of Williams and their bench. Pavlovic looked decent on Friday but Orlando's bench still outscored Cleveland's handily.

 
At Sunday, May 24, 2009 7:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joel:

As I noted in my series preview, Orlando's first regular season win versus Cleveland is irrelevant because the Magic had a healthy Nelson and the Cavs were down two starters. Orlando's other regular season win versus Cleveland was the Cavs' third game in four nights and the second half of a road back to back--this is known as a "scheduling loss." The only time that the teams met under "normal" circumstances with both sides having roughly the same rotations that they are currently using the Cavs won.

All of Orlando's matchup advantages have yet to prevent them from falling behind by at least 16 points in each of the first two games of this series. Over the next few games we will find out what the aberration is: Cleveland's big leads or Orlando's big comebacks.

 

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