The Orlando Magic recovered from a lethargic, embarrassing start against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon and held on for a 98-92 win versus the Cavaliers' second- and third-teams. Cleveland held a 9-point lead at the end of the first period and extended its advantage to 16 points at the 7:20 mark of the second, but Orlando rallied and wound up winning the second, third, and fourth quarters to knot the season series against the Cavs at 2 games. Dwight Howard dominated with 22 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 6 blocks as Cleveland had nobody who could keep a body on him, while Jameer Nelson contributed 17 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals. Cleveland coach Mike Brown rested reigning MVP LeBron James for the third straight game and did not play Mo Williams or Antawn Jamison in the fourth quarter, which indicates he clearly was not interested in winning the game. Those two tore the Magic apart when they were on the court, scoring 19 points apiece, with Williams adding 9 assists and Jamison pulling down 6 rebounds. Another indication of how little this game meant to Brown and the Cavs? Brian Windhorst notes that he did not instruct his team to foul trailing by just 6 points in the final minute. By tying the season series, Orlando is assured of not losing a series to any team this season.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
The Cavs didn't go for the kill in this one, which makes it tough to know what to look for. If these teams meet in the postseason, James and Shaquille O'Neal will play heavy minutes, and the Cavs' offense will run through James instead of Williams. But there are a few takeaways here, mainly defensively for Orlando. Coach Stan Van Gundy struggled to find a lineup that could contain Jamison when he shifted to small forward, which is where he plays during James' typical rest at the beginning of the second quarter. Matt Barnes needed rest, so he wasn't an option. Rashard Lewis picked up 2 quick fouls, so he's out as well. Ryan Anderson doesn't have the footspeed, and Mickael Pietrus doesn't have the height or strength. Ultimately, Van Gundy pulled Anderson and Pietrus from the power forward and small forward spots and replaced them with Brandon Bass and Lewis, respectively, and gambled that Lewis could avoid further foul trouble. He did, but Jamison finished the first half with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. I expect Van Gundy will indeed have to trust Lewis to guard Jamison in the playoffs during the stretches he shifts to the three, which favors Jamison and Cleveland. But the Magic shut Jamison down in the second half. Maybe it was the Cavaliers' lack of urgency taking hold, but he was more content to shoot long two-pointers than to drive or to establish good low-post position in the second half. Howard's presence could have something to do with that, too, but Jamison missed 7 of his 9 shots in the second half, with one of the baskets for which he received credit coming as a result of a Howard goaltend.
Van Gundy also struggled to find a power-position combination that was to his liking, and used 4 different players at power forward today. He finished with Howard at center and Marcin Gortat at power forward.
Williams' duel with Nelson proved to be pretty entertaining. Both guys have pretty big egos--the Cavs' game operations crew plays the theme from The Godfather whenever Williams scores, and he eats that attention up--and take it personally when they get scored on, which led to some solid one-on-one battles. Based on the numbers, you'd have to say Williams won today, but it was close. Williams did most of his damage pulling up for three-pointers off the dribble in the halfcourt. He has a compact release and doesn't need much room to get off a good look, which his 3-of-6 showing from long range illustrates. Then again, Williams was lax in picking up Nelson in transition, and Nelson shot 2-of-2 on transition threes as a result. His biggest one, though, came from the left wing off a kickout from Howard late in the shot clock. It gave the Magic an 8-point lead with 2:55 to play and sealed the win for Orlando. Maybe 3 minutes is early for a "dagger," but given the Cavs' personnel and attitude in context, it was clear that an 8-point lead would be safe. He also took him right to the basket a few times for easy finishes. Williams struggled to hang with Rafer Alston in last year's Eastern Conference Finals, and it's hard to imagine him having it any easier with the quicker Nelson.
For a game that got off to such an uneven start, this one actually got pretty entertaining for some stretches. Cavs reserve combo guard Delonte West, a former teammate of Nelson's at St. Joseph's, always enjoys playing against Nelson, and it showed. He led the Cavs with 21 points and also dished 7 assists, and his activity off the bench got the pretty lazy crowd involved at times. He tied the game at 71 with a three-point play, making a fadeaway jumper over Nelson while drawing the foul. He and Pietrus got into a bit of back-and-forth scoring at the start of the final period. Pietrus' 19-footer from the left baseline, which he set up with a pump fake to evade the closing Jamario Moon, gave Orlando an 85-84 lead, which it would not relinquish. It was also Pietrus' 8th point in just over 90 seconds. He finished with 12.
The biggest positive is that Orlando settled down after a rocky start and ran its offense beautifully. Again, this is without O'Neal inside to bother Howard and James playing free safety to bother everyone, but ball movement this afternoon, particularly side-to-side, was crisp, clean, and effective. Orlando finished with 29 assists on its 38 baskets, with Nelson (8), Vince Carter (5), and J.J. Redick (6) doing most of the work.
That same passing that ultimately helped the Magic win almost cost them in the game at the outset, with 6 first-quarter turnovers. To me, it was more a case of nerves than Cleveland's defense, though, which is why I wrote at the time that I wouldn't be surprised if they settled down and coughed the ball up just 7 or 8 more times the rest of the way. True enough, Orlando finished with 14 turnovers, the last of which being an intentional shot-clock violation in the final minute, with no incentive to shoot or run up the score. Cleveland built its lead with transition scores, which were hard to come by in the second half as Orlando's offense straightened out.
Carter's play left something to be desired, though. He moved the ball OK, but wasn't too interested in shooting; this was Carter at his most deferential, and it might have hurt the team. When he did shoot, he didn't look comfortable, and I credit Moon for a lot of that. He's quick and long, which makes him a great double-team defender on Howard because he can return to his man off the kickout in time to alter the shot. Carter tried to knock a few jumpers over Moon's outstretched arms, but those tended not to drop. On the day, Carter shot 3-of-10 from the floor, and made just 1 jumper; his other 2 baskets were a driving dunk and a driving layup. He can't be as tentative as he was today in the postseason, particularly against Cleveland. Redick outplayed him. So did Moon, if we're honest.
That's not meant to sound alarmist. It's hard to predict how any series between these teams will play out, should they meet, so a poor shooting day from Carter is no reason to panic. If anything, the inability to keep backup center Zydrunas Ilgauskas off the offensive glass is more worrisome. Big Z grabbed 7 of Cleveland's 14 offensive rebounds, in just 26 minutes. Howard and Gortat have to do a better job boxing him out. They're lucky that Z got the ball off the rim or the backboard rather than from a teammate, since he was open just about any time a Cavalier wing drove to the hoop, with Howard or Gortat stepping over.