Led by Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, the Orlando Magic rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to shock the Cleveland Cavaliers, 107-106, and take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Magic's versatile forwards combined to score the team's last 17 points, with Lewis' three-pointer over Anderson Varejao with 14 seconds left providing the final margin. The Magic withstood what John Krolik of Cavs: The Blog argues might be a career-best performance from LeBron James. The league MVP finished with 49 points (20-of-30 from the field, 3-of-6 from three-point range), 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, and only 2 turnovers in 41 fatigue-inducing minutes. He and Varejao were the only Cavaliers to impress. In contrast, Orlando got more balanced production, and its bench outscored the Cavaliers', 25-5.
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I'm really not sure where to start with a game like this. The Magic looked like they were about to get steamrolled in the first half, as the Cavs got whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it, wherever they wanted it. Varejao set the tone by scoring the Cavs' first 6 points, all as a direct result of sneaking free along the baseline for layups. Cleveland tuned-up the Magic with 63 first-half points. Mo Williams hit a three-pointer from near his own foul line as time expired, appearing to give the Cavs momentum.
On the other end, Dwight Howard was the only Magic player who could get it going offensively, with 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first half. He must be happy to see Zydrunas Ilgauskas lining up across from him after having to tangle with the smaller, stronger, and bulkier Kendrick Perkins in the last round. Howard used his significant speed advantage to score around Big Z, who sagged a few feet off Howard and still managed to get beat every time. Lewis and Turkoglu combined for only 10 field-goal attempts in the first half as Cleveland did an admirable job chasing them off the three-point line.
After halftime, it was as though the teams traded places. Suddenly, the Magic were the ones moving the ball well, while the Cavs were the ones relying on one man to do it all. James, who somehow always seems to get his otherwise spotty jumper going against Orlando, indeed did about as much as he could. But on the whole their offense stagnated, with little-to-no ball movement. The Magic, meanwhile, worked the ball inside to Howard, and looked to involve Lewis and Turkoglu in the offense more often. It worked. They never seized the lead in the period, but trimmed the deficit from 15 to 4 heading into the final frame. All they could have asked for at halftime was to give themselves a chance to win the game going into the 4th quarter. Well, they did that.
Anthony Johnson drilled a three-pointer from the left wing--off a pass from Turkoglu, who accounted for, via score or assist, 26 of Orlando's 29 fourth-period points--to give Orlando its first-ever lead with 10:06 to play. Cleveland called timeout and immediately put James back into the game. It was a roller-coaster ride from there until the final buzzer, when the Magic walked off the floor victorious, winning their second straight Game 1 on the road.
I have to admit--and in fact, I Tweeted as much when it happened--that I did not think the Magic would pull out the victory after James barreled his way into the lane, drew Howard's 6th foul, converted the layup high off the glass, and made the ensuing free throw. That made the score 106-104 in Cleveland's favor, and after the Magic timeout, the Cavaliers would have time to set their defense. Howard would not be in the game to draw defenders away from the three-point shooters. Ultimately, none of it mattered. The Magic moved the ball beautifully, but the outcome largely rested on Varejao's roaming on the p lay. For whatever reason, he lingered with Ilgauskas--who was defending Marcin Gortat--on the baseline when Turkoglu swung Lewis the ball on the right wing. Lewis gave a jab step, which Varejao bought, then elevated for the game-winning trey.
The Magic are not more talented than the Cavaliers, but tonight, they simply played smarter. They're more versatile, able to lean on Howard in the first half, with Lewis and Turkoglu coming up big in the second. The extent to which Cleveland adjusts defensively may determine the outcome of Game 2. The Cavs hang their hat on their defense, and they can't be happy to look at the boxscore and see Turkoglu's 15-point, 14-assist line, or Lewis' 22-points on 9-of-13 shooting. Given the way the Cavs' offense died in the second half, one wonders if they simply feel like they beat themselves, rather than the Magic beating them.
14 assists, incidentally, is a new playoff-career-high for Turkoglu. It best his previous total, 12, which he set in Game 7 of the Boston series.
Credit Orlando for gutting this one out, and credit the Magic's bench players for finding ways to contribute. Michael Pietrus continued his strong recent play, with 13 points and capable defense on James. Johnson, too, played great defense and even forced the younger, quicker Delonte West into a 24-second violation by relentlessly poking at the ball. The win was a result of every Magic player playing his role--although we'd like for Howard to manage more than 13 rebounds, and to block at least one shot, next time out. It's hard to complain about the offense. And, on most nights against the Cavaliers, when James' jumper isn't falling, the same sort of defensive effort will win games. Tremendous win. We'll see if they can build on it Friday.