May 11, 2008
We'll have a Detroit-only column coming around the bend pretty soon, and I don't want to run the risk of repetition, so pardon me while I focus on the ways in which Orlando blew this one.
Up 15 with eight and a half minutes left in the third quarter, the Magic clanged three three-pointers, bombs that the team thought were going to break Detroit's back. The Pistons were playing without the injured Chauncey Billups, they were toiling against an Orlando outfit that played them to a hilt in Game 2 and trounced them in Game 3, and the Magic likely assumed that one more 25-footer would break the camel's back.
The shot never hit. And Detroit came down with the rebound (after a few tries, actually), moved the ball, and poured in a series of mid-range looks. Orlando kept turning the ball over (12 times in the game, a great mark for the Magic, but several came in that costly third period), and Detroit outscored the Magic by 18 points in about seven minutes before Maurice Evans hit a game-tying three-pointer to finish the third quarter.
Now I know why Ben Q. Rock gave his Magic blog the name he did.
Hedo Turkoglu took over in the fourth, and the Magic were a few unlucky rolls away from pulling out the win in the final seconds, but this is a game they should have wrapped up in that third quarter. Sure, the Pistons are good enough to beat the Magic in Orlando without Chauncey Billups, but it doesn't mean you let it happen.
Dwight Howard (3-12 shooting, eight points, 12 rebounds) was pretty useless, he missed several chippies around the hoop (remember, Orlando lost the game by one point), and had no way of getting around an active Detroit D that was fronting and moving its feet to deny easy angles.
Actually, he had several ways of getting around the Piston defense, but Howard's footwork just hasn't improved to the point where he can do something about it. That's why I'm not buying the bollocks behind Magic assistant Patrick Ewing adding so much to Dwight's game.
I'm not saying the future Hall of Famer hasn't helped, but I haven't seen any sharp increases in Howard's effectiveness (check out the advanced section) that can't be explained away by just getting a year older. Cable TV screamers might not have noticed Dwight until this year - remember Tony Kornheiser saying that Shaq was the much better player during a PTI last year? - but his year-to-year improvement is more or less as-expected.
Meanwhile, the three-pointers were just too much. The Magic made six of their first eight from long-range to start the first two and a half quarters, and though the 4-10 turn that followed wasn't all that bad, the team stopped moving the ball, stopped asking Howard to go out and set high screens, and managed just 26 points in the game's final 20 minutes. Even with Turkoglu's hot hand.
Taking the whole game into context, yeah, the Magic played a pretty solid 48 minutes of basketball. But that second half was dreary, and though Orlando nearly pulled out Game 2 on the road and have beaten Detroit at Auburn Hills in the regular season, the team pretty much let their season slip away in the third quarter on Saturday.
There's a significant home-court advantage in basketball, it seems an obvious thing but it's worth bashing over our heads every so often. Location, location, location.
Individual players are less and less apt to work out of their comfort zones on the road, which is why it often takes a transcendent performance from a singular talent for teams to pull off postseason wins on the road. Don't read that as a bash job on Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce, mind you (well, maybe for Pierce); it has more to do with guys like Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo.
Perkins actually had a great outing in Game 3, managing 12 points, seven rebounds, and a pair of blocks in just 24 minutes. But in Games 1 and 2, the man was outstanding, and his ability to roam and create defensive havoc even out to the three-point line was a big reason why LeBron James stunk up the joint in the two Boston wins.
Perkins, out of his comfort zone and on the road, decided to stay a little closer to the paint in Game 3. As a result, passing angles opened up, assists were fired across the bow, and the Cavs hit shots. Merely because Perkins wasn't extraordinary defensively early on, the Cavs ran out to an early advantage that they never let up.
And give Cleveland coach Mike Brown a little credit: he actually put ultratalented Cavalier wing scorer LeBron James (wait for it) on the wing quite a bit on Saturday. James was horrible from the floor (5-16 shooting), but he was able to see over the defense and find his teammates on his way toward eight assists. There was a reason his individual plus/minus was +29 in this one, in spite of some unfortunate shooting choices.
James had several chances to turn the corner against Boston in Game 3, but decided to step back and throw up the long-range shot. He hit 3-5 from outside the arc, but missed many long two-pointers, and his actual non-passing offensive exploits in Game 3 were pretty distressing. It reminded of when James stopped driving to the hoop in Games 6 and 7 versus the Pistons in 2006.
What's frustrating is that James might not be afforded those opportunities for the rest of the series, because Boston's defense might Perk back up again, sending the triple-team toward the area of the court he wants to drive into.
Boston blew their own chances offensively but not realizing that Paul Pierce - regardless of whatever injury or fatigue issues he might be dealing with after having to guard James - can bogart the paint and score at will in the half-court. Pierce wasn't exactly pounding his chest and demanding the ball, he needs to create his own fortune to an extent, but he made it easier for the team's point men to ignore him while firing up shots of their own.
Citing a lack of assists as a reason for poor point guard play is often pretty pointless, it takes two to tango and good passes sometimes still end up in the hands of players who miss shots, but it makes sense here:
Rajon Rondo and Sam Cassell combined to shoot 3-16 and dish just two dimes.
Rondo's poor shooting (3-10) doesn't concern me much, he could have made all the 18-footers Cleveland forced him into and he still would have had a miserable game. The second-year guard just would not try and set up any sort of Boston post game, and assuming that there was a directive from the bench to get Pierce or Kevin Garnett (17 points but just 13 shots) more involved, Cassell did little to aid in the hoped-for execution. Bugger.
Still, this was Cleveland's win, way more than it was Boston's loss. Delonte West was quick, confident, probably mentally-unbalanced, and rewarded his coach's trust with a great game: 21 points on 11 shots, seven assists, five rebounds,
Big Z was ready for the Boston counter, shot less (12 points on 10 shots), found the open man, and tied a season high with six assists. Wally Szczerbiak drives fast gas guzzlers, and struck early, finishing with 20 points.
(Here's another Top Gear clip. I couldn't decide between the two. Happy Mother's Day.)