Cavs/Magic Game 3 Recap
Cleveland needs a solution. And fast.
Can you win a series despite being outplayed in each of the first three games? Cleveland’s going to find out.
Not quite sure what the saddest part about Game 3 was from the Cavs’ point of view: That Dwight Howard basically didn’t play in the first half (Marcin Gortat kindly gave us 17 minutes of his time); that Anderson Varejao did a better job of annoying himself than he did Howard; that four of Cleveland’s starters had four or more fouls, with two fouling out; that the backcourt combo of Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston had identical output to Delonte West and Mo Williams; that LeBron James had 41 of their 89, got to the line 24 times, and probably had an “average” outing; or just the fact they’re down 2-1 and were one landmark play from being in an insurmountable hole.
It’s probably unfair to make this all about Cleveland because Orlando has been really good. The Magic have responded to, for lack of a better term, the bad stuff (like deficits, or foul trouble) better than the Cavs.
Just for something different, it was Orlando who opted for a first-half, double-digit lead in Game 3 (16-6), but Cleveland reeled that back in and led 41-40 at the half. The core of the Cavs’ being in the LeBron Era is holding opponents in the low 90s, and the pace suited. But in the second half it was Orlando. The Magic shot 35 free throws in the second half, and their superior depth showed. And when things got a little chippy, a little physical, they seemed to only get better.
Howard got his 24 on eight shots, took 15 free throws after halftime, and his night’s work consisted of little more than a half. Hedo Turkoglu made one field goal yet flirted with a triple-double. If there’s such a thing as the Dominique Wilkins theory, it’s that if you can’t make a shot from the field, you get your points at the line. Turkoglu did that. Mickael Pietrus, though you wouldn’t know it, has been darn-near pivotal since the clincher at Philly in round one. Sure, his defensive prowess might be a little overrated (in an Ariza kinda way), but he’s athletic, he has showed up for every important Orlando game in the postseason (not to say there’s an unimportant playoff game, but you know what I’m saying), and he had 16 big points Sunday.
Keep in mind, this is an Orlando team that just dusted off the defending champs, swept the season series with the Lakers, and has won four of six against their conference finals opponent in 2009, including outplaying the Cavs in Cleveland, where they lost just twice all year. People keep talking about how Orlando’s not respected, how could they possibly be disrespected now? Not only do they have an All-NBA center, but because they have essentially two shooting small forwards, they cause weird mismatches, spread the floor, and aren’t exactly punished on the other end as Cleveland doesn’t have a scorer over 6-10. It’s exactly the type of team that can – correction: do – cause the Cavs trouble.
Cleveland needs to make an adjustment. Somewhere. And preferably before the end of the series.
To say Mo Williams left his jumper in Cleveland would be wrong. He didn’t have it there. And it’s not in Atlanta, because he didn’t have it there, either. Really, Williams hasn’t seen the thing in about three weeks. But he probably would want to find it soon; he was 5-for-16 on Sunday, his night more notable for head-butting Anthony Johnson’s elbow and his subsequent “bigger fish to fry” post-game chirp.
LeBron’s amazing series, where he’s dropping nearly 42-7-5 nightly, is in part due to Williams’ offensive ineptitude. But that ineptitude doesn’t roll one-deep – a fact further enhanced in Game 3. West has struggled with his shot, ditto for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and that so-called deeper rotation was good for more fouls (10) than points (8) on Sunday. Teams usually buckle at the sight of a defining effort from James; if anything, Orlando has welcomed it. They’re almost “Nash-ing” LeBron – you get yours, we’ll shut down the others.
But remember, it’s only 2-1. Cleveland is a win from getting home court back, but also one loss from near-extinction. This is the NBA, and it’s the playoffs; adjustments are made, things are tweaked. But how about Cleveland just finding their swagger? As silly as it sounds, where is that “stupid” confidence they exhibited all year? Not just when LeBron is snapping fake pictures of his scrubs prior to games, but that arrogance they played with in the opening rounds. They need that back. We know what LeBron is bringing – he’s scored 43% of his team’s points through three games – it’s the supporting cast that needs to man up. It’s either that, or a 3-1 ditch.