Witness This! James' Last Second Three Pointer Saves CavsThis 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.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:28 AM