The Orlando Magic rallied from a 23-point deficit to take a 95-93 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers with 1 second to play, only to see their hopes of going up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals dashed when LeBron James drilled a three-pointer at the final buzzer. It was James' first successful three-pointer of the game in three attempts.
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Certainly, much of the post-game discussion will focus on some questionable officiating that may have skewed things in the Cavs' favor. Mo Williams was not assessed a technical foul after deliberately throwing the ball at Dwight Howard during a dead-ball situation; Ben Wallace was not assessed a blocking foul after he stepped under an airborne Courtney Lee, negating a basket for Lee and actually drawing an offensive foul; LeBron James was not assessed a charging foul after he barreled into a set, outside-the-restricted-area Marcin Gortat, who in turn earned a technical for his protesting the call levied against him. You get the picture, and I understand the complaints. However, the Magic did not play a flawless game. They can just as easily pin the loss on other factors--ones under their control--such as missed free throws (8 of them in 25 attempts) and poor interior defense. That's why I don't want to focus on the officiating. Hell, the Magic caught some breaks near the end, as James was whistled for two rare offensive fouls as well as a traveling violation in the fourth period.
For more on this game, I refer you back to Game 1. It really was that similar. Poor shooting and sloppy ballhandling helped the Magic dig themselves into a deep hole early. Also as in Game 1, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu got off to slow starts, while Dwight Howard carried the load early. The Magic's turnovers and poor transition defense helped the Cavs' offense, and Cleveland more than doubled the score on the Magic with an imposing 43-20 lead just 17 minutes into the game.
But like Game 1, Lewis and Turkoglu heated up in concert, just as the Cavs' defense softened. The only reason Wallace was able to draw that charge, for instance, was because Lee blew by his defender. That's what happened almost the entire second half, resulting in either a Magic layup or an open three-point shot. The offense hummed.
Again, it's the defense that needs work. After Courtney Lee's running shot in the lane gave the Magic their first lead of the night, 86-84, Cleveland scored on its next 3 possessions: a fairly open baseline J from Williams, followed by an open three-pointer from the left wing by Williams, following by an open jumper by Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Orlando otherwise defended the Cavs well in the 4th quarter, but allowing three consecutive open looks was killer.
It appeared as though Orlando would be okay, though. Up by 2 points, on the road, with 1 second to play, after trailing by 23... that's impressive. No, there aren't moral victories in the playoffs, but the Magic put themselves in a position to win in spite of all those circumstances. And it took an absolutely nutty, fadeaway trey from a career 33% three-point shooter for the Cavs to win. Obviously, the Magic would prefer to return to Orlando with a 2-0 lead, as opposed to the 1-1 split they currently have. But given all the ways they could have lost, I suppose they can live with yielding such a tough shot...
"I should have defended it differently. It's crushing enough to lose as a coach, but when you feel like you're the guy who could've made the difference, it hurts a lot more.
The Magic will certainly take this loss--their fourth buzzer-beating defeat of these playoffs--to heart, and there's no reason to believe they won't bounce back. They've done it before, and they can do it again. But now that Cleveland has been on the winning side of a close playoff game, it might have regained any confidence it lost after Game 1. After the first two games of the series, both teams have scored 202 points. We are indeed in for one helluva ride.