CLEVELAND (AP)—The 24-second shot clock has been fixed. The Cleveland Cavaliers are next on the repairs-to-do list.
The Orlando Magic caused some extensive collateral damage with their stunning win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
They exposed Cleveland’s depth, shredded its defense, snatched home-court advantage and put the NBA’s top-seeded team in an unfamiliar position—behind in a series and desperate for a win heading into Game 2 on Friday night.
Behind a torrent of clutch 3-pointers—the winner by Rashard Lewis(notes) with 14.7 seconds left—and Dwight Howard’s(notes) broad shoulders, the Magic muscled their way into Cleveland’s noisy arena and rallied for a stunning 107-106 victory that may have altered the perception that the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the postseason.
This is no smoke-and-mirrors Magic act. Orlando is the real deal.
Howard set the tone by busting one of the shot clocks with a vicious dunk in the opening minutes, a we’re-here-to-play moment that stunned a Cleveland crowd that later shuffled out of the building wondering what went wrong after seeing the Cavs lose on their home floor for just the third time in 46 games.
After Thursday’s practice, Howard, standing near the same basket, was asked if he was done breaking things.
“No,” he said, flashing a smile. “Not yet.”
Despite the win, the Magic, who beat Philadelphia in the opening round and eliminated the defending champion Boston Celtics in the conference semis, feel as if they’re not being given a chance to win this series and advance to the finals for the first time since 1995.
“I don’t even think most of the nation knows that we’re in this series,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said after the Magic’s light workout at Quicken Loans Arena. “This is the ‘Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James series.’ Who they are playing against is incidental.
“It doesn’t bother me and I don’t think it bothers our guys. That’s the way it is. Look, they won 66 games. They swept through two rounds of the playoffs. They’ve got the most valuable player in the league … But it doesn’t matter.
“The bottom line is this is not the BCS, where people get to vote for who the best teams are. We actually get to play on the court to decide that.”
The Magic, a mercurial squad that can dazzle one minute and disappear the next, fell behind by 16 points in the first quarter of Game 1 and were down 15 at halftime. But urged by the fiery Van Gundy, they kept chipping away and fighting, and in the second half their shots began to fall.
Orlando shot 59 percent after halftime, went 7-of-13 on 3s and outscored the Cavs 59-43. Now 9-3 in their last 12 games against Cleveland, the Magic survived an ungodly playoff performance by James (49 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds) to hand the Cavs their first loss in nine postseason games.
James has often maintained that a series doesn’t truly begin until one team wins on the road.
So, LeBron, is this one on?
“Yep,” he said. “It’s already started.”
The Cavaliers seemed to have shaken off any shock from the loss when they gathered at their suburban training facility to prepare for Game 2. The mood was typically loose during the portion open to the media.
In the opener, James was bothered by leg cramps in the fourth quarter that became so severe he was forced to call timeout for treatment. He blamed part of his fatigue on the long layoff since the Cavs swept Atlanta, saying it was impossible to replicate the game-day adrenaline rush during practice.
James said he was physically fine and mentally refreshed.
“I hate to lose, so I was sick after the game,” he said. “But today is a new day. I’m fine.”
With their superstar’s shot dropping, the Cavaliers reverted to a bad habit they had seemingly abandoned. During stretches of the second half, James’ teammates stood around on offense and watched him. There was little motion, ball movement or strategy.
It was all LeBron, all the time.
The Cavs weren’t much better on defense as Howard pounded them inside and Lewis, who went 5-for-5 in the fourth, killed them from the perimeter.
“Rashard was the X-factor,” said James, who may find himself guarding Lewis in Game 2. “He was huge. He hit every shot in the fourth quarter and every big shot: transition 3s, pull-up 2s, he nailed them.”
Orlando now wants to nail down Game 2. The Magic won the series opener at Boston, but didn’t bring the same energy the next game and were beaten by 18.
“We can’t take this win for granted,” Lewis said. “We have to come out more hungry and humble to try and get another one.”
If they can, the Magic, who played in the shadows of the Celtics and Cavaliers, will have everyone’s attention.
“I think people are starting to recognize that we are a good team, that we are for real and that we are contenders for an NBA championship,” Lewis said.