Cavs/Magic Game 4 Recap
Cleveland needs a miracle, not another guarantee.
There are a number of ways to look at the Eastern Conference Finals after Game 4, a 116-114 Magic OT win that was equal parts exciting, exhilarating, and elbow-less:
- Logically – Cleveland is done. Orlando has absorbed the Cavs’ best shot, taking the bulletin board that was filled with Mo Williams quotes and beating their opposition with it, seemingly robbing us of that oft-spoken LeBron-Kobe Finals dream, while teaching us that five-game sweeps aren’t confined to the 2004 Pistons-Lakers Finals.
- Statistically – The number 33, representing Orlando’s advantage from 3-point rage in Game 4. Or the number 10, which is how many points Dwight Howard scored (or willed?) in overtime. How about 23? That’s how many points Rafer Alston – Rafer Alston – scored in the second half. Try number 7. That represents LeBron James’ turnover count after the third quarter. Maybe the biggest number is the smallest: 1. That’s how many losses Cleveland is from elimination.
- Positively – Yeah, it looks bleak for Cleveland, but stranger things have happened. Teams have been outplayed and still managed to come back from 3-1 deficits – take the ’81 Celtics for example, who beat Philly by 2, 2, and 1 to claim the East Finals. (Note to non-suicidal Cavs fans: Boston lost Game 1 at home by 1 point, Game 3 on the road by 10, and Game 4 by 2 in that ’81 series – ringing any bells?) Teams have also responded to gut-wrenching, emotional losses and revived a series – the 2006 Suns, on the heels of a Kobe dagger in Game 4, came from 3-1 against the Lakers to win a series. Yes, it can happen. I’m not saying it will, but this isn’t over. Cleveland has to lose four games, and they haven’t yet. That’s why they play the games, right? Right?
By any stretch, Game 4 was well played. It was cleaner than, say, two nights earlier. Turns out clean or dirty, in Cleveland or not, rocking the normal wine-and-gold or an alternate road jersey, the Cavs simply don’t “appear” to be able to overcome Orlando.
Through 24 minutes, everything we said Cleveland needed to do to win was coming true. Eight players had scored, LeBron was getting his help, they were shooting the ball well, Mo Williams and his mouth had regained its shooting stroke, and no one was in foul trouble. Mike Brown even went back to his 66-win rotation – Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson in, Sasha Pavlovic out – and things seemed right in the world again as the Cavs took an eight-point lead into halftime.
But Orlando was there. They didn’t play a bad first half; they shot the ball well, their bench was once again a factor, and Howard logged 20 minutes without a hint of foul trouble. Rafer Alston opened with the first 7 points of the third quarter, erasing the lead, and the teams were essentially entwined the rest of the way.
The fourth quarter was everything you want in a great playoff game – every time you thought it might end, it didn’t. Orlando took a 91-83 lead, but James scored 10 points over the final seven minutes to keep it close. Rashard Lewis then hit a huge 3 that gave the Magic a 100-98 lead, but James drew a foul (cry all you like, he was legitimately tripped) and made two free throws to sent it to OT.
Dwight Howard has never been mistaken for Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, but he’s so efficient from the field (27 points on 16 shots) that when he’s making his free throws it’s a beautiful thing. Quite simply, overtime became his. Two dunks, a tip, a hook, and two free throws, but best of all, he was bulling his way to the basket. And while he’s walking the postseason technical foul tightrope (he picked up his sixth under unusual circumstances Tuesday night), it’s also a step forward for Howard: If he’s picking up technical fouls, it means he’s not smiling. And though you wouldn’t know it, he set a killer pick on Ben Wallace that allowed Lewis to hit that ball-breaking 3 late in the fourth that put the Magic up. Howard’s play propelled Orlando in overtime.
James, on the other hand, was brilliant. You can’t drop a 44-12-7 doozie and not be. But he did have late turnovers (he had one through three quarters, finished with eight), he once again didn’t shoot well (13-29 from the field), and his 35-footer went left as time expired. He’s the single reason the series even has a heartbeat – no one is going to 100-percent guarantee a Magic five-game series win because of his mere presence. We expect him to lift his team to victory, but honestly, how can he possibly lift them any more?
Blaming LeBron’s perceived lack of help is insufficient – he had it in Game 4. What he doesn’t have is much time to save his season.