- UPDATE 3: Ben Q. Rock snags a few quotes from head coach Stan Van Gundy and LBJ before the game. Check it out. Certainly worth the read.
- Brian Schmitz notes that LeBron James, despite his best efforts, was unable to save Cleveland from losing another game to Orlando yesterday:
King James got all the shots he wanted, but this time most of them weren't as blessed as the Orlando Magic beat the Cavs 99-89 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Beaten by King James on a miraculous 3-point shot with one second left on Friday night, the Magic gave up 41 points to him this time in a bruising defensive wrestling match.
James missed 17-of-28 shots and the Cavs shot just 37.2 percent, including 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) from the 3-point line.
The Magic shot just 42.9 percent, but showed no effects from being beaten by LeBron's buzzer-beater, finally starting fast and holding off King James and the Cavs.
- George Diaz states that the Magic aren't just happy to be at the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers, the team is trying to win the series (shocking, I know):
"Not only are we confident," Magic guard Rafer Alston said, "we're a tough cover when you have one of the most dominant big men in the game and we've got a lot of shooters."
Upstarts. Immature. Not Ready.
These are all annoying buzz words in the Magic locker room. No matter what gets said publicly, no competitive athlete likes to have this pop psychology thrown at their face.
"It does add fuel to the fire to try to prove everybody wrong," Lewis said. "You want to go out there and prove a point, but at the same time, they were the best team in the Eastern Conference and we're right behind them."
- Andrea Adelson talks about Mo Williams and the elbow to the face he took from Anthony Johnson, that required some stitches for the Cleveland player:
Williams has struggled for the entire Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic. In Cleveland's 99-89 loss in Game 3 on Sunday, Williams started off well but took the nasty hit late in the second quarter as he tried to defend Johnson from making a shot.
He needed four stitches to close cuts above and below his left eye, and was briefly taken to the locker room for treatment. When asked whether the hit was a cheap shot, Williams replied, "Most definitely."
[...] "I've got bigger fish to fry. I've got to figure out how to make some shots. I could care less about Anthony Johnson. He plays 12 minutes a game, I could care less."
- Kyle Hightower explains how Orlando was able to get off to a quick start in last night's game, thanks in some part to Rafer Alston.
UPDATE 4: Dwight Howard posts on his official blog about yesterday:
I told ya’ll the other day that we find it really disrespectful that everybody seems to be pulling for LeBron and Kobe to get to the Finals. Every time I look at TV, it seems like that’s all anybody is talking about. It’s like nobody is even giving us a shot at winning this series and we’ve used it as motivation.
W e’re up 2-to-1 and we have a long way to go vs. the Cavs, but hopefully we can mess up those plans of getting Cleveland and L.A. in the Finals. If the lil’ ol’ Magic make it, what will they say then?
We really, really think we have the team and the talent to win a championship this year. Nobody out there on ESPN thinks that we can do it, but we think we have everything that it takes right now to bring that ‘ship back to O-town.[...]
We’ve got to get two more wins, but we really think we can win this series. If we move the ball to keep their bigs on the run, defend and rebound, we feel like we can beat anybody. We play like that, we can do it this year. People laughed a couple of years ago when I talked about bringing a championship to Orlando. But if we keep playing the right way, anything is possible now.
- UPDATE 6: David Steele analyzes the Magic's win over the Cavaliers.
- For a Cavs perspective on Game 3, check out Cavs: The Blog, Fear The Sword, and WaitingForNextYear.
Click after the jump to see what the national media had to say about Game 3.
- Tim Povtak of NBA Fanhouse recaps last night's proceedings between Orlando and Cleveland ...
Dwight Howard didn't win this one with his thunderous dunks, or his natural shot-blocking ability, two skills in which he led the NBA this season.
He won it with his free-throw shooting.
Seriously. No kidding.
The Magic took a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference final Sunday night with a 99-89 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, riding the free-throw shooting – yes, free-throw shooting -- of Howard.
... points out that Dwight Howard is close to getting suspended, again and surmises that there appears to be bad blood brewing between the Magic and the Cavaliers, especially after the Williams incident.
- David Whitley of NBA Fanhouse suggests Orlando may be beginning to prove that it is the better team than Cleveland, in this series.
Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com believes that the Magic have gone from the underdog to the favorite against the Cavaliers. Sort of:
So now we have a series in which the underdog has clearly become the favorite, Orlando's matchup advantages posing so many difficulties for Cleveland that we could very easily be sitting at 3-0, on the verge of a sweep, if not for a certain "biggest shot of my life" that James sank from 3-point range at the buzzer to give the Cavs' their Game 2 victory.
That Kobe-LeBron matchup that everyone has been touting as an inevitability, the one that has inspired commercials, arguments and endless variations of comparisons between the two?
Might not happen, folks.
And even worse for Cavs fans, that hype is actually fueling the Magic's desire.
"Do we find it disrespectful that they're counting us out? Yeah," Howard said. "But that's nothing we can control."
- Henry Abbott of TrueHoop lists six thoughts he had about the Orlando / Cleveland matchup, yesterday. Here's choice excerpts from the post:
Cavalier Coach Mike Brown did something pretty slick in the second quarter: Just when Stan Van Gundy was resting the Magic regulars, Brown inserted LeBron James. And the Cavaliers ripped off an 11-0 run. It was the only stretch of the game when Cleveland clearly outclassed Orlando. Hedo Turkoglu's agent (he'll be a free agent soon!) would like to point out that the run started when Turkoglu was benched, and ended only when he returned. That's a big part of the reason why, despite shooting 1-11 from the floor with three turnovers, Turkoglu ended the game an impressive +20, to go with his 11-12 from the free throw line, 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
[...] I don't know who it was at the Magic that made the final call on selecting Courtney Lee with last summer's 22nd pick, but they have to be feeling pretty good now. This rookie is a key factor in the Eastern Conference Finals. On the season he's making better than 40% of his 3-pointers, he has speed like Rip Hamilton, and he's one of a tiny handful of players to be go-to defenders in their first season of NBA action. And most importantly, he almost never turns the ball over. With no give-aways, and good defense, there's almost do downside to keeping Lee on the floor.
[...] The referees were extremely evident. This series has been, generally, among the most enjoyable to watch in NBA history. But 86 free throw attempts in Game 3 (four more than in the first two games combined) went a long way to bringing down the fun factor. The Magic shot a whopping 51 times from the stripe, which would seem to indicate they got the better referee treatment. But the Magic's star, Dwight Howard, had six fouls, none of which were very convincing. I'd like to see HD slow motion replay of all six back-to-back. He fouled out of the game on a tremendously clean block. Meanwhile (I invite anyone who has the urge to assemble video to check me on this) LeBron James appeared to have significantly more leeway.
I'd add that Howard got hacked multiple times in the paint on purpose, which is why the free-throw disparity was skewed in Orlando's favor last night.
- Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop elaborates, with detail, the first 10 offensive possessions of the game for the Magic and shows why Orlando is such a difficult team to defend.
- Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated thinks last night's game has proven that the Magic should be considered serious contenders to win an NBA Title. On behalf of Orlando fans, forgive me while I say 'duh' .. better to be late to the party, than to never show up. Right?
Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm chimes in on the game yesterday:
Meanwhile, Howard is becoming a MAN on the court in this series. Anybody can block shots and throw down dunks (well, okay, not anybody, but lots of guys). But hitting clutch free throws and drawing fouls inside? That’s big time, right there. There’s a compelling story coming IF the Magic can finish the job.
UPDATE: Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie offers his assessment of Game 3:
This is Orlando's series to lose. It was that way entering the series, and it remains that way after taking two of the first three. The Magic knew coming into the Conference finals that they had Cleveland's number in terms of matchups, they remember the regular season, and they knew about being battle-tested after struggling to down the 76ers and Celtics (who, say it with me, "had matchup advantages" over the Magic).
And Orlando played a smart game. They went to Rashard Lewis, early. Hedo Turkoglu kept shooting even when the makes weren't there, but he didn't shoot too damn much. Mickael Pietrus threw an on-court hissy fit in the first half after Courtney Lee didn't throw him an alley-oop pass on a fast break (hitting Marcin Gortat , instead, who missed both free throws), but Pietrus got his act together and didn't play a selfish second half as a result.
[...] Anthony Johnson hit Mo Williams with an elbow that was completely and utterly unintentional. Every replay showed it. Johnson is hardly an elite athlete at this level, so he needs to gather himself and flail wildly just get up enough strength to even get a shot off, and sometimes that involves awkward elbows. No malice.
Now, the refs originally called it a flagrant two. After talking, they called it a flagrant one, which will likely be rescinded today or tomorrow. And those two free throws that Williams hit as a result? Those were made up for, soon after, with a foul on Big Z. These things even out if at all possible, the refs make sure of it, but we're going to hear bitching and moaning about it until Game 4.
UPDATE 2: Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus elaborates on yesterday's matchup between the Magic and the Cavaliers:
In this game, the Magic wasn't exactly shooting the lights out either. With Hedo Turkoglu shooting 1-for-11 from the field, Orlando shot 42.9 percent as a team and had just six free throws. The sole reason the Magic was able to score at a very respectable offensive clip was the team's parade to the free throw line. Taking full advantage of a tightly-whistled affair, the Magic shot 51 free throws. Nearly three out of every 10 offensive plays included a free throw. Turkoglu attempted 12, the reason he was able to score 13 points as part of a double-double (he added 10 rebounds and seven assists), while Howard got to the line 19 times and made a very respectable 14 of them.
I especially enjoyed the way Orlando used Howard. He was frequently the roll man on the pick-and-roll knowing full well that the Cavaliers would take away his path to the basket. What forcing Ilgauskas to help against the ballhandler did was allow Howard to establish deep post position that essentially forced Cleveland to send him to the line. So it was that Howard scored 24 points despite being limited to 28 minutes by foul trouble of his own.
UPDATE 5: Johnny Ludden of Yahoo! Sports talks about Game 3 yesterday:
Somewhere at 30,000 feet, the Orlando Magic escaped LeBron James. They had replayed the shot in their heads on the flight home, over and over, torturing themselves until all they could do was laugh. Hadn’t they already done the heartbreak story? Andre Iguodala. Thaddeus Young. Big Baby Davis.
Take a number, LeBron. Get in line. Hell of a shot, nice highlight, but c’mon. This wasn’t the first dagger to pierce these Magic. Just one more superficial wound.
By now, everyone should know the Magic heal pretty quickly. If not, Sunday night offered the greatest proof yet. Shrugging off the sting of their last-second loss in Cleveland, the Magic pushed around the Cavaliers in a 99-89 victory at Amway Arena that gives them a 2-1 lead and control of the Eastern Conference finals.
Make sure to check out this post every few hours for updates.