Roughly two weeks ago, I posted eight keys to the series between the Magic and the Cavaliers. I stated that "anyone who thinks Cleveland will romp over Orlando will be disappointed. The Magic are one of the few teams that can stack up with the Cavaliers, so this series definitely won't be a sweep. Whether or not Orlando can beat Cleveland is dependent on whether or not the team can execute against their opponent. Given how insane LeBron James has been playing lately, it may not matter either way. In any case, it should be an entertaining matchup to watch."
Despite James' best efforts to will the Cavs to a series victory, in the end, the Magic were able to defeat the Cavaliers with great balance, matchup superiority, etc. Let's take a quick (this is the key word) look back at the eight keys to the series and figure out why Orlando was able to reach the NBA Finals. I'll try to be relatively brief.
Force LeBron James To Be A Jump Shooter - Taking a look at some shot charts, there is a stark divide when examining James' distribution of shots. In Cleveland's wins, James was aggressive and attacked the basket at will. In Cleveland's losses, James was passive and settled for jumpers and didn't wreak havoc in the lane.
Aside from Game 1, there was a distinct pattern between the Cavaliers losing to the Magic and James being a jump shooter in those games. It's as clear cut as it gets.
After the jump, a look back at the seven other keys.
Push The Tempo - Orlando did a great job of picking up the pace against Cleveland and not allowing the Cavs to set up defensively at different points in each game. How many times did we see the Magic get an easy bucket in transition or set up for open threes? Many times. It's also a reason why the team was able to come back from such sizable deficits, too.
I said beforehand that "if the series becomes a test over who can operate in the half-court, the advantage is going to go to Cleveland." At times, the advantage did go to the Cavaliers when the team was committed to dribble penetrating, executing pick & rolls, moving without the ball, etc. Also, it helped to have a physical specimen in LeBron James, who could attack the basket to either a.) convert easy buckets b.) draw fouls or c.) kick the ball out to his teammates.
But in the end, Orlando picked apart Cleveland in the half-court. When the Cavaliers chose to single-cover Dwight Howard, he dominated in the paint. When the Cavaliers chose to double & triple Howard, he kicked it out to his teammates and the ball movement ensued until a Magic player was able to get an open look for a shot.
When the Magic didn't choose to simply dump it down to Howard, the team had its way with the one weapon I, personally, have been wanting to see more of - the pick & roll. Orlando elected to run a plethora of pick & roll variations, like the 3/5 pick & roll (Turkoglu/Howard), the 3/4 pick & pop/roll (Turkoglu/Lewis), and so on and so forth.
I've said this before and I'll say it again. When Howard's athleticism and speed is being utilized in the pick & roll, that's when he is the most effective. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the team had two problems - a.) Zydrunas Ilgauskas struggles with defending the pick & roll, for example, and b.) Howard is too fast and too strong for the Cavaliers in the low post. Combine some of these factors together and you can see why Orlando had its way on offense.
The 100 Point Threshold - In the Magic's wins, the team was able to score 107, 99, 116, and 103. I noted before that 9 of the Cavaliers' 16 losses came when the opponent scored over 100 points in a game. It's safe to say that trend continued.
Dwight Howard Needs To Dominate - What else is there to say about Howard that hasn't been said? Orlando needed Howard to dominate on both ends of the court, and he did. No, Howard didn't accumulate asinine block totals but his presence alone deterred James from attacking the basket like he usually does against other teams.
That was key.
As for Howard's offense, he had his way against Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, and Ben Wallace the entire series. The only solution that Mike Brown had in trying to neutralize Howard was to put him on the foul line, and that didn't work (which is scary). By Game 6, Howard did whatever he wanted to do offensively and it showed with his penultimate 40 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block performance in the series-clincher.
|Minutes Per Game (38.7)|
Force Anderson Varejao To Beat You - Varejao didn't make much of an impact on the series for the Cavaliers, aside from getting into foul trouble and rebounding.
Because Varejao wasn't much of an offensive threat on the court for Cleveland during the series, Howard was able to roam around the paint and in essence, zone his area. This is why Mike Brown was forced to play small, at times, and take Varejao out of the game, to space the floor for the Cavs and force Howard to account for his man on defense.
Rashard Lewis Must Step Up On Offense - I surmised that "the table is set for Lewis to have another big series [offensively]. If the Magic want any chance at defeating the Cavaliers, he will need to capitalize on the opportunity." I think it's safe to say that Lewis capitalized. Big time.
|Minutes Per Game (42.0)|
Game-winner in Game 1.
Potential game-winner in Game 4 before James tied the game.
Lewis was fantastic against Cleveland. Varejao struggled to defend Lewis effectively, falling for jab steps, pump fakes, etc. Lewis punished the Cavaliers when he was involved in the pick & pop/roll, when he penetrated the lane for easy buckets, or when he planted behind the arc to drain threes.
Lewis' offensive repertoire was on full display against the Cavs.
It's Your Time, Rookie - Although Lee was a non-factor for the Magic from an offensive standpoint, he made his presence felt from a defensive standpoint. Lee did a good job of neutralizing Delonte West (and Mo Williams, at times) and not let him make a bigger impact.
|Regular Season||Postseason (vs. Orlando)|
|Minutes Per Game (33.6)||Minutes Per Game (45.0)|
|PPG (11.7)||PPG (14.5)|
|FG% (45.7%)||FG% (44.9%)|
|3P% (39.9%)||3P% (31.8%)|
|eFG% (53.0%)||eFG% (51.5%)|
Role Players Must Be Contained - The following was for the entire season, up until the series against the Orlando Magic for each Cleveland Cavaliers player:
|Cleveland is 20-2 when Zydrunas Ilgauskas scores 16 or more points.|
|Cleveland is 17-1 when Delonte West scores 15 or more points.|
|Cleveland is 29-5 when Mo Williams scores 20 or more points.|
Here's how each player fared in each game of the series, points-wise (bolded when the individual broke the threshold, above):
Because Orlando was able to neutralize the main role players for Cleveland, it ultimately made no difference how many points James was able to score (despite the 27-3 record the Cavs had for the entire season, up until the Magic series, when James scored 32 points or more).
In sum, the Magic were able to execute a number of these keys with success against the Cavaliers and thus, move onto the next round to face the Los Angeles Lakers. Waiting for Orlando is the 2008 regular season MVP, Kobe Bryant.