- Brian Schmitz maps out the road ahead for the Magic after yesterday's loss:
Now there is no middle ground. For the Orlando Magic, their journey to earning a title shot ends in either a great close-out or a great collapse.
The Magic will return home to try to close out the Cleveland Cavaliers again after losing Game 5, 112-102, on Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Magic made an impressive comeback from an early 22-point deficit, but the Cavs held on to cut Orlando's series lead to 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.
Game 6 is Saturday in Orlando. If the Magic can not oust the Cavs at Amway Arena with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake, a tied series will shift to Cleveland for Game 7 Monday.
- Mike Bianchi states the significance of what the Eastern Conference Finals means for Orlando, and for other teams in the same type of position:
This series is bigger than you think. It's more significant and symbolic than you realize.
Now that the Magic dropped Game 5, 112-102, to the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday night, it is imperative they close this thing out in Game 6 Saturday back home at the Am.
Not just for themselves or their fans.
But for the entire world of sports.
This is about more than winning and losing.
It's about the ability of a good team to overcome the greatness of one individual.
It's about we vs. me.
- George Diaz posits whether the Magic will join Michael Jordan and other sports figures or teams for eliminating the title hopes of the Cavaliers.
- Shannon Owens points out that the coverage on TNT (and elsewhere, it seems) has been Cavs-centric throughout the series. No matter what.
Tim Povtak of NBA Fanhouse recaps Orlando's loss to Cleveland:
LeBron James just wasn't ready yet for the season to end, willing his Cleveland Cavaliers to a Game 5 victory Thursday night to keep this Eastern Conference final alive.
There was nothing complex about Cleveland's fourth quarter strategy against the Orlando Magic. It was give the ball to James at the top of the key, step back and see what wonder he could create.
It was all LeBron, all the time down the stretch. And it was impressive – even by the highest MVP standards.
As good as 37 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists may sound for James, his fourth-quarter flourish was even more impressive in this 112-102 victory. James either scored or assisted in 32 of the 34 points in the fourth.
Benson Taylor of The Sporting Blog wonders aloud whether or not LeBron James will be forced to carry the entire workload for the Cavaliers:
James was involved in 29 of Cleveland's 34 fourth-quarter points, either by scoring (he had 17 fourth-quarter points) or by assist. In doing so, he finished with 37 points and 12 assists to go along with 11 rebounds, for his fourth career playoff triple-double. Just another all-around masterpiece from your NBA MVP.
The bigger question, though, as Cleveland heads to Orlando for Saturday's Game 6, is this: Must James have his hand in virtually every Cavs basket in order for this team to advance to The Finals?
Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com elaborates on how the Magic need to play for a full 48 minutes of basketball, rather then starting slow and finishing slow:
"To win this series, we have to play 48 minutes, which we haven't done once in this series except in Game 3," Van Gundy said. "We need to rebound and take care of ball, and I said it before the game: We're living and dying with our offense, which is a very, very dangerous thing. They brought a heightened defensive mentality, and we did not. They deserved to get this one."
Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm talks about last night's matchup:
There have been three games in this series where things have bounced whole-heartedly in one team’s favor. Games 2, 4, and 5. Those games where everything goes right for one team and nothing goes right for the other. While people around the web are busy saying that the Magic are somehow shooting way too high, when in reality they’re shooting 3% higher than what they shot against Cleveland in the regular season, Cleveland brought the heat tonight. [...]
The Cavs won by 10, the Magic shot terribly from the arc, and their bench still mauled Cleveland.
- Henry Abbott of TrueHoop explains about how Cleveland ran the same play over and over again against Orlando in the fourth quarter, with success.
- David Steele analyzes Game 5 between the Magic and the Cavaliers.
Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie chimes in on Orlando's loss to Cleveland:
o slam on the Cavs, who did everything right. But while they improved slightly upon their play from Games 3 and 4 in that early run in the first half; the Magic regressed more than the Cavs improved. And when one team makes a bigger jump or dive than the other, the bigger difference immediately becomes the bigger reason.
And the reason that the Magic came back? They started playing like the Magic. It wasn't because LeBron James was guarding Courtney Lee , or that the Cavs weren't running (you try running when you have to take the ball out of the net), it was because the Magic started playing up to potential. They played great defense, and scored off of movement.
And it was no choke job by Cleveland to give up that big lead. The Cavs just aren't 22 points better than Orlando. No drama, just facts.
- Dwight Howard posts on his official blog after the game and speaks out:
They defended their homecourt here at The Q, and now it’s on us as a team to do the same back at Amway. Our crowd will be loud and behind us and I know we’ll play better. This game does nothing to shake our confidence. As long as we defend better, move the ball, run and get a few breaks we still feel like we’re going to win this series. There’s a lot of work left to be done and it won’t be easy, but we’ll be ready to get that one on Saturday night. Believe that!!!
- UPDATE: Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated addresses some of the concerns head coach Stan Van Gundy must deal with, heading into Game 6.
- UPDATE 2: Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports revisits LBJ's performance.
UPDATE 3: Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus delves into last night's matchup between Orlando and Cleveland:
While Orlando still has an excellent opportunity to close out this series Saturday at home, this was surely a missed opportunity for the Magic, which led as late as the 6:01 mark. The bulk of Orlando's offense came from Howard (24 points on 8-for-10 shooting, along with an impressive 8-for-13 mark at the free-throw line), Turkoglu (29 points on 10-for-18 shooting) and Pietrus (13 points, including three triples). Lewis played well in the first half but was largely invisible after halftime, scoring all four of his second-half points from the stripe. Rafer Alston saw the bill come due for his hot shooting in Game Four. This time, he missed nine of his 10 shot attempts, seven of them coming from beyond the arc.
As we head to Game Six, one crucial factor could be the health of West. To little fanfare, the Cavaliers guard left the game at the 3:32 mark with what was diagnosed as a hip pointer. Szczerbiak was able to step in for West down the stretch, but West will be much more challenging to replace for a whole game if he is unable to go. West has topped the 40-minute mark in every game of this series, and that's a ton of extra minutes to fill with more Gibson, Szczerbiak playing some on the perimeter and the return of Sasha Pavlovic. In a series this close--and the two teams are now separated by two combined points over five games--West's absence could easily be the difference-maker.
UPDATE 4: Despite the Magic's defeat yesterday, Bethlehem Shoals of the Sporting Blog has developed an appreciation for Orlando during the playoffs:
That's why, this Christmas, I am thankful for the Orlando Magic. Not just because they have gone from "2a" in the East to contenders over the course of the playoffs; it's been a long, strange trip. The longer the Magic play, the better they get. Against the Celtics, we were piling on Dwight Howard. Now, we see how this team really works, and Howard and Rashard Lewis's relative flaws matter less than how they fit into SVG's system. Simply put, this team is gaining momentum, and poise, and we're coming to better understand what they're all about. It took a heroic effort to beat Boston, and now, they're still in a good position to knock off the mighty Cavs.
And it's not a vacuous Cinderella story. The Magic's magic is a combination of a team's personnel getting healthy and gelling at the right time, a coach at the height of his powers (I would love to see Jackson and SVG go match wits), and all of us being forced to take our eyes off of LeBron and Kobe to see it happen. As plot twists go, the Magic's postseason is certainly at one extreme of the spectrum. But it certainly does throw into sharp relief how little the world needs to hear another word about Bynum's inability to get back, the Nuggets' physicality, Billups' transitive legitimacy, or any of the other recurrent themes of these playoffs that, for all their initial punch, are now thorns in our basketball-watching side.
- For a Cavs perspective on Game 5, check out Cavs: The Blog, Fear The Sword, and WaitingForNextYear.
Make sure to check out this post every few hours for updates.