- UPDATE 4: Ben Q. Rock was able to speak with Anthony Johnson before the game and asked him a few questions. Check out what Dad had to say.
- Brian Schmitz notes that a piece of Orlando's past (Shaq) was witness to a piece of Orlando's future (Dwight), as the Magic defeated the Cavaliers:
Appropriately enough, a living, breathing 7-foot timeline of the franchise's past and present sat a few feet from the court.
The Orlando Magic crept within one victory on Tuesday night of making it to the NBA Finals, their first appearance since a certain onlooker named Shaquille O'Neal led the team to the title round in 1995.
In a fiercely played classic, the Magic defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 116-114 in overtime at Amway Arena to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. The Magic now have three chances to knock out the league's best regular-season team and end the club's 13-year dry spell, much of it coming after Shaq exited as a free agent a year after being swept in the title round by the Houston Rockets.
- Mike Bianchi sums up what Howard and the Magic need to do in Game 5:
One more win.
If Dwight wants to be treated like the superstar he is, he must now finish off this series against the NBA's ultimate superstar.
- George Diaz states the obvious with Orlando, yet it's so surreal reading it:
The Magic are a victory away from going to the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1995 season when the franchise rode the shoulders of a playful giant to a championship chase that sputtered against Houston.
- Kyle Hightower talks about Marcin Gortat, the 'Polish Hammer', and his contribution to the team, as well as get some quotes from the Polish native:
He had two blocks on James in Game 3 and helped the Magic hang on to the lead and the win with quality minutes after Howard got his fourth foul in the third quarter. [...]
"I don't even know how to compare it," Gortat said. "It's like having an Escalade and beating a Ferrari. ... I got over 30 messages [after Game 3] and most of them were about blocking LeBron rather than winning the game. But I just look at it as it's more important to help stop LeBron from getting to the basket and getting dunks. "
"After the second block he looked at me and I could read his face and it was like 'Next time I'm going to dunk on you.' So I'm waiting for that."
As to what his signature season might do for his prospects this summer and beyond, Gortat said right now he's just living in the moment.
"There's such a big pressure right now with everything is going on," he said. "I really don't know what's going to happen. Right now I'm just trying to focus on the game. And trust me, right now there is nothing else in my head except trying to block LeBron James [again]. That's the only thing I'm thinking right now."
Whatever happens with Gortat during the off-season, I wish him all the best .. he deserves to be rewarded monetarily. The dude has put in the hard work.
- Andrea Adelson states how Cleveland head coach Mike Brown has been having a difficult time trying to game-plan for Superman in the series.
- The Orlando Sentinel was able to chat it up with TNT's Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson before the game last night. Check it out. Here's a choice excerpt from the transcript:
How does Orlando rank in terms of crowd excitement compared to other cities?
Kenny: They're good. I would say middle of the pack honestly. Cleveland is definitely No. 1. Their pregame rituals and hype ... I thought it was corny until I was there. They're at the top of the list right now.
Ernie: They got pretty excited [after Game 3]. I don't come down here pretty often. It's so hard on a playoff night, all places get loud. I think Utah is kind of the gold standard. We did a few games in Sacramento when [Chris] Webber was there; they had cowbells.
A fair assessment, in my opinion. The O-rena certainly has its moments.
UPDATE 3: Dwight posts on his official blog, today, about the road ahead:
We’re so, so close to playing for that championship in the Finals, but now is no time to celebrate because really we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve won three games, but you don’t get anything for that. If you think winning last night was hard, t rying to close out the Cavs at The Q will be super hard and we know it. That’s a good team that won 66 games and they aren’t going down without a fight.
UPDATE 5: David Steele analyzes the Magic's win over the Cavaliers and shares a cool exchange that occurred once the game was over:
Immediately after the thrilling conclusion of game, Alston was making his way over to the courtside broadcast area for a live network interview when he was momentarily delayed by one of his teammates. It was Jameer Nelson, who had tracked Rafer across the floor, offering a congratulatory hug. You know Nelson would give almost anything to be on the court, helping his team on this remarkable march through the playoffs. But there are other ways to be a leader, and Jameer demonstrated one of them by reaching out to the man who has stepped into the spotlight that could have been shining on him.
- For a Cavs perspective on Game 4, 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 4.
- Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com states that Dwight Howard made the superstar plays, even if he didn't get the superstar calls.
- Henry Abbott of TrueHoop lays out his eight thoughts concerning Game 4, yesterday.
Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop examines Dwight's performance in overtime:
The broad narrative of Game 4 will be about Dwight Howard's arrival as a closer, the night he lorded his physical gift s over everyone on the court when it mattered the most. Will it also be the point on the chronological axis when getting the ball to Dwight Howard started to matter? Maybe, maybe not. That's a trend that should play out for at least a full season before it's declared meaningful, but you think Dwight Howard cares about sample sizes?
Tim Keown of ESPN's Page 2 talks about the issue surrounding the perceived disrespect towards the Orlando Magic (and the Denver Nuggets, too) in the Eastern Conference Finals:
Outside of Orlando, there was very little attention paid to the Magic's ability to take a series lead while keeping their act together in the face of some strange officiating and the game's brutally inconsistent pace.
Before that game, Stan Van Gundy said, "I don't even think most of the nation knows we're in this series. I think this is the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James series and who they're playing against is incidental." Nothing much has changed. There are only two pertinent questions after a Cavs loss: (1) what more could LeBron have done to lead his team to victory? and (2) what more could LeBron's teammates have done to make it easier for him to lead his team to victory?
- TIm Povtak of NBA Fanhouse recaps the Magic's win over the Cavaliers and explains how Rafer Alston was able to step up for Orlando last night:
Alston became one of the unlikely heroes Tuesday night when the Magic beat the Cavs, 116-114, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, delivering a career playoff high 26 points.
The Cavs made the same mistake that Philadelphia made in the first round and Boston made in the second round, leaving Alston open to help defensively on the Magic stars. And as usual, Alston made them pay, bringing back memories of his playground days when he become the legendary "Skip-to-my-Lou.''
He made 10 of 17 shots and six of 12 from 3-point range, scoring 20 of his points in the second half after playing only nine minutes because in the first half because of early foul trouble.
- During the Magic's win, Howard got hit with his sixth technical foul. Question is, will the tech stand? Orlando plans on appealing the call:
"You do start to feel like he's a marked man. That's a pretty tough technical foul to get,'' Van Gundy said. "You start to feel like they really are looking for him. Varejao grabs him by the shoulders going up. To me, that's a bigger problem than him making noises when he makes the basket. I guess there is no problem grabbing a guy by the neck, but if you celebrate the basket, that's a bigger problem.''
Howard, who got a technical in Game 3 for saying something toward the Cavs bench, said he was surprised by the technical Tuesday, especially after promising tha t he would keep his mouth shut and his elbow in to avoid one.
"All I was doing was playing with emotion,'' Howard said. "I wasn't taunting anyone. It was a tough play. He grabbed me around the neck, but I made the shot anyway. I understand the consequences. I might really have to use the duct tape [on my mouth] now.''
- Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm chimes in on the game between Orlando and Cleveland:
The Magic didn’t play that well tonight.
No, really. Check the box. Out-rebounded. Out-hustled. More turnovers. Allowed big runs. Gave up 40+ to LeBron again. Allowed 110.7 offensive efficiency. Got to the line fewer times. Let Delonte West get off a little bit. Gave up easy buckets to Varejao.
But that’s the thing with this Magic team. They play terrific basketball for three games, take two out of three with clutch play, defense, and focus. And in the fourth game,w hen they don’t have those things going?
They can just shoot the freaking lights out. [...]
How big was Big Baby Jesus [Dwight Howard] tonight? Backed down Varejao, dunk. Back down Varejao, score. Back down, draw the foul, knock down free throws. Block LeBron, cause the tie-up. Huge. He played with poise, he played with power, he was dominant. The Cavs had focused on keeping him down all game, they sacrificed the perimeter and the Magic hit a Conference Finals record number of threes. They shifted to the perimeter in overtime, and Howard murdered them inside. What are you gonna do? HOW MANY WEAPONS CAN THEY HAVE? [...]
Let’s be clear on something. The Magic can shoot better from the arc than they did tonight. I’ve seen it. So’s Cleveland, but they’ll claim they don’t remember that game. They hit more tonight, but they shot better in April. My point is that I hear Cleveland fans talking about Orlando just being hot. This isn’t hot. Over 50% from the arc is hot for them. This is consistent for them. The issue coming in was whether Orlando would be able to create a quality look inside a possssion. They haven’t. They’ve created several. And they get their choice of which shot to hit. Do not doubt that Orlando can keep up this pace. Doubt that they can’t hit higher, and that they can’t win when they don’t shoot that well. Their slump game was Game 3. And they won. [...]
I liked Cleveland in this game. I like Cleveland in the next game. But the Magic are the better team, and it’s not really close.
- Bethlehem Shoals of the Sporting Blog posits the result of Game 4:
But then again, how exactly is any team supposed to beat the Magic when they make almost half of their three-pointers, aren't shy about shooting them, and then have Dwight Howard just go nuts in the paint in overtime? Forget about adjusting to keep Howard in motion; the big man just took it down in the post and overpowered Anderson Varejao. Oh, and Howard even made two key free throws late. Granted, the Magic won Game 4 by only two points -- a 116-114 overtime thriller -- and LeBron got a decent look at another miracle three. James, however, is getting by one brilliant play at a time, while the Magic are just getting better and better at playing their game.
- Steve Aschburner of Sports Illustrated writes an open letter to Orlando fans after the team was able to inch closer to an NBA Finals appearance with yesterday's victory:
The NBA wants LeBron-Kobe because it would mean fat ratings for its game telecasts and an easy boost in jersey sales and global popularity, which actually might be the same thing. ABC and ESPN want it because those ratings points can translate into advertising dollars. Sponsors want it because the money they spend on commercial time (and big endorsement fees to those two players in particular) more likely will be returned to them, plus, in sales of sneakers and vitamin-laced bottled water. Pro basketball fans want LeBron-Kobe because it is a natural extension of the playful debate -- who's better? -- that has raged for a while now. Casual fans want it because it makes the NBA accessible to them, reducing to a simple best-of-seven series between one first-name guy and another first-name guy after about eight months and more than 1,300 regular- and postseason games. You folks in O-Town know all about the marketing value of above-the-marquee types, from Shaq and Penny to Mickey and Donald. [...]
For all of the above reasons, the subversive, underdog part of me wants to see Orlando face Denver in the Finals. I admire the Cavs and Lakers, I marvel at the on-court magnificence of James and Bryant and I want those teams and fans to have a fair (but no better than fair) chance of realizing their dreams, too. Like a lot of you, I especially feel for sports fans in Cleveland. In fact, I sent an almost identical letter to Cavs fans during the Bulls' run of Eastern Conference dominance, sharing their frustrations when their club was running smack into Michael Jordan and his vastly superior marketability year after year. Of course, they never got it; the flight carrying that letter went through O'Hare.
Still, when something feels too pat -- and this sure does, just like those videotaped conversations between Kevin Garnett and Bill Russell last spring that aired during earlier rounds, well before Boston qualified for the Finals -- it can start to seem less than legitimate. When someone wants something too much, it's only natural to look hard at the motives. The NBA has only its networks and its announcers to thank for this, for jumping the gun and pushing an outcome that isn't close to being decided.
- Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated elaborates on last night's proceedings.
- UPDATE: Johnny Ludden of Yahoo! Sports discusses Dwight's herculean effort in overtime.
UPDATE 2: Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie offers his assessment of yesterday's game:
Even with the nail-biting, the Magic pulled out a deserved win. This team clearly has matchup advantages in every nook and cranny that count, something that we saw in the regular season, and it has carried over into the postseason.I don't agree with Dwyer that Howard was taunting. Dwight was so emotional on the and-one play against Anderson Varejao that he had to let it out. Can a guy scream, at least? Emotions run high sometimes, just it be.
Lots of role players, ‘ere. Dwight Howard's role is that of the superstar-in-training. He's still training, because your all-timers don't make a choice to wheel back and taunt their defeated opponent after using their skills to top them with a superior move. Especially when you've accrued five technical fouls in only 15 playoff games prior to this one, and two will knock you out for an entire contest.
But he also destroyed the Cavs. Inside and out, because this guy was tossing perfect pin-point passes to his teammates (four assists), including a dish to Rafer Alston in the first quarter, leading him right into his shooting motion, that Steve Nash would have been proud of. Anyone else miss Steve Nash? Does anybody remember laughter?
"Out," also, because he kept up the pressure on the Cleveland perimeter D. Howard may have allowed a few too many hoop forays in regulation, Doug Collins continually pointed that out, and it's a fair criticism, but Howard made up for it even in a game where Cleveland tossed in about 111 points per 100 possessions. And "inside," because he absolutely took it to the Cleveland D in the first quarter, and finished it off in overtime. 27 points on 16 shots, 7-9 from the free throw line, 14 rebounds, fo ur assists, only two turnovers, a steal, and three blocks in 49 minutes. That'll do.
UPDATE 6: Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus delves into the matchup between the Magic and the Cavaliers:
The funny thing about Howard's star turn in overtime is that he was clearly overshadowed through regulation by Orlando's unstoppable shooting. The Magic made 17 threes in 38 attempts, getting six from Rafer Alston and five from Mickael Pietrus off the bench. You could argue that Orlando will continue the hot shooting, or that it is impressive that Cleveland nearly overcame the three-point deficit to win on the road. I've decided I don't believe either school of thought. It's simply something that happened, and it has little or no relation to what will take place in Game Five or the rest of the series.
Of course, those threes do relate to Howard, and the Cavaliers' desire to keep him from getting free in the paint, leaving open looks on the perimeter. The Magic got a little trigger-happy down the stretch. Some of the threes they did try in the closing minutes of regulation were good looks that didn't fall, while others (Pietrus' miss from the corner with seven seconds left, which could have been devastating had Howard not created a second chance, stands out as a notable example) were forced, possibly in no small part because the longball had been going earlier.
The difference between these two teams in this series is nowhere near as large as a 3-1 advantage for Orlando makes it appear. Through the first four games, the teams are separated by 12 points, so there's no reason to believe Cleveland can't win the remaining three games. This series is a long way from over, and once again it is the Cavaliers' turn to answer.
UPDATE 7: Elias Sports Bureau, Inc. reveals how clutch Rashard Lewis has been in the fourth quarter:
Rashard Lewis scored 10 points, including two three-pointers, in the fourth quarter of the Magic's 116-114 overtime win over the Cavaliers. Lewis ranks second in the NBA with a total of 107 fourth-quarter points during the 2009 playoffs, trailing only Kobe Bryant (121). Lewis has made 12 three-point field goals in the fourth quarter, to rank third behind the co-leaders, J.R. Smith and Ray Allen (13).
Make sure to check out this post every few hours for updates.