Orlando 116, Cleveland 114 (OT) (Orlando leads series, 3-1)
Not to take away from what was yet another fantastic, competitive, game; but both of these teams had a couple of whacks at giving Game 4 away.
Cleveland didn't exactly hand the Magic the contest, but it could have been theirs. Smarter fourth quarter play, smarter coaching, and better leadership from LeBron James(notes) makes this a best of three series with two to play in Ohio.
The Magic's missteps weren't as obvious, but iffy play and offensive decision-making to end both halves left this game closer than it should have been.
Even with the nail-biting, the Magic pulled out a deserved win. This team clearly has matchup advantages in every nook and cranny that count, something that we saw in the regular season, and it has carried over into the postseason.
Lots of role players, ‘ere. Dwight Howard's(notes) role is that of the superstar-in-training. He's still training, because your all-timers don't make a choice to wheel back and taunt their defeated opponent after using their skills to top them with a superior move. Especially when you've accrued five technical fouls in only 15 playoff games prior to this one, and two will knock you out for an entire contest.
But he also destroyed the Cavs. Inside and out, because this guy was tossing perfect pin-point passes to his teammates (four assists), including a dish to Rafer Alston(notes) in the first quarter, leading him right into his shooting motion, that Steve Nash(notes) would have been proud of. Anyone else miss Steve Nash? Does anybody remember laughter?
"Out," also, because he kept up the pressure on the Cleveland perimeter D. Howard may have allowed a few too many hoop forays in regulation, Doug Collins continually pointed that out, and it's a fair criticism, but Howard made up for it even in a game where Cleveland tossed in about 111 points per 100 possessions.
And "inside," because he absolutely took it to the Cleveland D in the first quarter, and finished it off in overtime. 27 points on 16 shots, 7-9 from the free throw line, 14 rebounds, four assists, only two turnovers, a steal, and three blocks in 49 minutes. That'll do.
Hedo Turkoglu's(notes) role is to be the cat that Cleveland just can't counter, even if the shot isn't there, as was the case in Game 3. No worries on that end in Game 4, he hit for 15 points on 13 shots, as his size, ability to keep a live dribble, penetration ability and passing left the Cavs at a loss. With a loss.
Seven boards, eight assists, five turnovers for Hedo. He didn't dominate -- he turned the ball over too much, Delonte West(notes) had a few good possessions chasing him around defensively -- but he gave the Magic something Cleveland didn't know what to do with, a tonic needed when things weren't going so well for the home team.
Rafer Alston's the wild card, which is just as clichéd as
they come, and not exactly a role you want your point guard to play, but there
it is. He's the guy that banks in three-pointers.
He also swishes three-pointers. And he took advantage of miscommunication from Cleveland defensively (I don't think LeBron James was being lazy in not guarding Alston on one possession, I just think the Cavs didn't know who was supposed to check whom on that possession) to toss in bomb after drive after bomb.
26 points on 17 shots, for Rafer. He was absolutely dragging and useless in the last half of the fourth quarter and overtime, but by then it hardly mattered. He'd put in his points, and the others took over in crunch time.
Rashard Lewis(notes) is the guy you want to toss a bucket of cold water on, wondering just why the most talented (in terms of versatility, yeah, I'll say it) player on the Magic has just one field goal make through the first three quarters, despite some time being checked by Wally Szczerbiak(notes), home of the famous "Wally's Zero Cartilage."
Mickael Pietrus(notes) is the defensive stopper who was sadly told years that Michael Cooper, he of the 34 percent career mark from long range, was a "lights-out shooter." And while some of Pietrus' treys aren't "great" shots, they are "mostly going in" shots. 5-11 on Tuesday, 10 of 24 on the Conference finals, 41.7 percent.
Courtney Lee(notes) plays the love interest. Stan Van Gundy is the wizened, incredulous father figure whose hair looks a lot different in May than it did in November. Marcin Gortat(notes) is Latka, because I'm a horrible person ... with Patrick Ewing as "Patrick Chewing."
"Ooops!", and the studio audience goes wild.
Cleveland could have had this, just as Orlando nearly blew it. Orlando started slow, then lost a chance in the second quarter to pull away by turning the ball over incessantly and making horrid decisions on shots. The Magic went from up six points to being down eight points at the half from the 4:30 mark to the buzzer in that second quarter. Not sure what that was in real time. You'll have to ask Doug Collins.
Actually, let me get on Collins a bit, here.
I listened to the opening 12 minutes on the radio, with Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown on ESPN Radio calling another great one, and then returned home to the Tivo to watch the game on TNT from the beginning. And after having listened to Tirico and Hubie give LeBron James' first quarter behind the back pass to Anderson Varejao(notes) the proper treatment, I couldn't help but be dismayed at the way Collins handled the call.
He just poured cold water all over the thing. Talking and talking and eventually getting to something along the lines of, "what a fantastic pass," a good 30 seconds after it took place. And at that point, I had just had it. I needed Mike Fratello on that TNT sideline, not Collins. Learning about the game and discussing strategy shouldn't mean we lose out on exciting calls, and Fratello and Marv Albert (when he isn't being talked over by Collins) bring that.
But Collins, while he didn't exactly tame a lion with a chair or shoot off fireworks, ended up calling a fabulous game. Great job on his end, even if he was a bit matter-of-fact -- without that matter-of-fact dry wit that I love from guys like Fratello or Matt Guokas.
I'd still prefer Fratello on this broadcast, if even in a three-man booth (a set-up that I like, unless it's put together by ESPN), but I need to credit Collins for turning it around and really getting the job done in Game 4.
Back to Cleveland. Why, with all the jump shots? You roar back in that fourth quarter by taking it to the rim, and yet you feel a need to toss in these bombs every few possessions, with the Magic really forcing you into things ... just ‘cause? You know that, even if they aren't in the majority or even split in half, these bad possessions add up over time, right? And, let's face it, the "you" in any situation with the Cavaliers is "LeBron James."
Even if James gave the Cavs a nine out of ten, that difference between "nine" and "ten" (but the one over the eight seem less like one, and more like four?) was the difference in the game.
It stinks, but that's how it goes at this level. And when you toss too many jumpers, and turn the ball over eight times, it's what costs Cleveland the game. Especially when you're tied after 48 minutes.
This isn't to say James is stubborn or oblivious. He knows this, especially with the turnovers, and he's cut back on the bombing a little bit. But there's no reason his crossover should leave him with a 22-footer late in the fourth quarter. Especially when he was able to go to his strong hand on Pietrus as much as he was, late.
All the other points you've likely heard are well-founded. Mo Williams(notes) was aggressive, yes, but he also missed some open shots early, took some bad shots, and managed 5-15 overall. Delonte West was fantastic, on both ends, the two starting bigs (Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes)) were pretty solid, but the Cleveland bench was awful.
I don't blame Mike Brown for inconsistency with this lot, because they're pretty consistently bad. Brown was called out by his superstar for not playing Sasha Pavlovic(notes) after Game 1, he got a good Game 2 out of him, then watched as he didn't do a damn thing on either end for 25 minutes in Game 3. I don't mind dumping Sasha as you desperately try to find something you can count on.
Wally Szczerbiak had one good move offensively and a couple of good defensive possessions in Game 4, but that was it. Daniel Gibson(notes) is pretty "blah" at this point (appropriate his supposedly "good game" to starters minutes, and he needs 10 shots to score 16 points, but doesn't do anything else in any other area), and Ben Wallace(notes) is absolutely shot.
TNT ignores this because he's getting a goaltending call from Dwight Howard or tapping out a couple of offensive rebounds, but this is the same player I saw first hand in Chicago. You've seen players that overrate their offensive abilities, and chuck up shots? He overrates his defensive abilities, thinks he can guard two or three players at once, and leaves his team in the lurch.
This isn't to blame him for that Rashard Lewis three-pointer near the end of regulation. That's on Brown, because Wallace shouldn't have been out there. But Wallace kills this team on screen and rolls because he thinks he can scare the daylights out of the driver while getting back to contest shots, but he can't do either at this point. Four points, four rebounds and a block in 16 minutes, and a deserved plus/minus of -14, worst on the team.
The refereeing was fine. There was one call on Hedo Turkoglu in the fourth quarter that was pretty bogus, and there were some block/charge calls I didn't agree with, but Pietrus didn't beat James to the spot in the final seconds of regulation (if he beats him to the spot, you're allowed contact. Otherwise, hands off), and I'm glad they didn't call what should have been the proper call at the end of regulation with Howard and Varejao.
The proper call would be a foul on Howard, his sixth, or a double-foul and jump ball, which would foul both of them out, and just look pathetic. In the end, you know the refs got it right. Watch the video.
In the end, the Magic got it right more often, more consistently, and with results that usually (17-38 from behind the arc) counted for a point more. I guess I have to assume that the Cavs will win on Thursday, because I did pick Orlando to take this in six games, but Cleveland is going to have to play its asses off.
I mean that. They barely escaped with a split of the first two games, they barely won their only home game against Orlando during the regular season, and the Magic's matchup issues have proven to be too much.
And, honestly, I just don't know what else the Cavaliers can do, save for non-stop driving. Absolute, utter, ugly basketball. Throwing yourself into contact, posting up, driving, driving, driving. A hundred bucks in the petty cash jar for every long-range two-pointer.
Two hundred for every three-pointer. Seriously. You scored 18 points on 22 possessions when you decided to take a three-pointer, and 96 points on 81 possessions overall. For comparison's sake, Orlando scored 65 points on its 65 non-threebie possessions. So why try to emulate the Magic attack?
A whole lot of conventional wisdom points to this series ending up back in Florida. If pressed, I'd be willing to side on that, but I have no logical reason to. The Cavs are going to have to re-shape their entire mindset, whilst sustaining James' all-world 40-point, near-triple double games. That's a lot to ask for in two days, but with the Coach of the Year and MVP on their side, I think we should expect them to try.