Um... so yeah, that was an interesting GameTwo, wasn't it?
The Cavaliers were staring dead in the face at perhaps the most brutal loss in franchise history, a 2-0 deficit, and a likely sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic. They had blown a 23-point second quarter lead and trailed, 95-93, with one tick remaining on the clock. The game, the season... it was all over.
Then LeBron James applied the defibrillator. His high-arcing prayer of a three-pointer rattled home with no time left to give Cleveland a 96-95 victory and somehow, some way, tie this series at one game apiece.
I have no idea how the Cavaliers are going to win a game in Orlando, something they have to do in order to win this series. I really don't. But let's not think on that right now. Right now, let's just savor the biggest shot in the history of this franchise.
Horror Show: I'll just get this out of the way right now- the Orlando Magic are an absolutely terrifying basketball team. They are so big, so athletic, have so many deep shooters, so many match-up advantages, and they play like absolute assassins against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Plug one mismatch against that team and another one instantly springs up. They simply don't miss, and will never, ever, just be nice and go away, even when they fall behind by 16 and 23 points, as they did in the first two games of this series. Watching them play is unbelievably nerve-wrecking.
Now, you see why I wanted no part of that team? Good Lord.
Fast Start, Part II: Wednesday night, the Cavaliers blazed out to a 33-17 lead near the end of the first quarter. They were even quicker out of the gate on Friday. Cleveland led 30-16 at the end of one, and while LeBron took his only breather of the game, expanded the advantage to 43-20 early in the second quarter. Just as it was on Wednesday, the Cavaliers early-game defense was superb: they were closing out on shooters, forcing turnovers, and unlike in Game One, they were sending Dewey Howard to the free-throw line, where he obligingly chunked four of his first six attempts.
It's About Damned Time: Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I was calling for Sasha Pavlovic's return to the rotation prior to this series. Sasha's basketball IQ isn't exactly at Bird-ian levels, but he has the size, speed and athleticism to at least make a pretense of matching up with Orlando's stable of athletic shooters. The calls for the glowering Serb got louder after the Game One loss- when Wally Sczcerbiak looked predictably helpless- and became a cacophony when LeBron added his own voice to the din yesterday.
Sure enough, Sasha got Wally's minutes on Friday night- and at least for a spell, made everyone calling for his insertion (present company absolutely included) look pretty freaking shrewd. Taking advantage of the defenseless defense employed by J.J. Redick, Sasha struck for seven points during Cleveland's second-period run, including a couple of nifty drives to the basket. He only scored two more points the remainder of the night, and at one point during Orlando's late run he unaccountably left Hedo Turkoglu wide-open for a three-pointer, but Sasha definitely contributed. He even played solid defense on the shot by Turk that seemingly won the game for Orlando.
A Continuing Trend: The Cavaliers have lost to Orlando six times since the 2007-08 season. In five of those losses, they led at halftime. They led again at the half on Friday night, 56-44, and by all rights they should have lost again. I'm not sure what the deal is with this trend. Clearly the Magic have match-up advantages at several spots on the floor, but I have to wonder why they don't capitalize on those advantages for 48 minutes instead of just 24. At the same time, I have to wonder why the Cavaliers can look so good against Orlando in the first half- and so clueless and overmatched in the second. If I knew, I guess I'd be chilling next to Hank Egan behind the Cleveland bench, and not hammering out this column for y'all.
Is Jeff Gillooly Available? Because a tire iron to the kneecap might be the only way to stop Rashard Lewis at this point. Two nights after shooting the Magic to a come-from-behind win, Rashard came frighteningly close to doing it again. The 6'10" bomber poured in a team-high 23 points, including 4-of-7 from downtown. Listed as a power forward, Lewis is basically a very tall shooting guard. He plays and shoots like a perimeter player, and that makes him a near-impossible match-up for Cleveland's big men, especially Anderson Varejao.
What to do? Not sure. Going small- Varejao at center, LeBron at power forward, Sasha at small forward, along with Mo and Delonte- is certainly an option. Problem is, such a lineup puts Cleveland at a distinct disadvantage on the boards. The odd man out in this lineup, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, had 15 rebounds on Friday night. Offensively, Big Z is a rhythm player- you can't bring him off the bench and expect him to knock down those 18-footers like Vinnie Johnson. There's really no adequate answer for Rashard. Cleveland will simply have to hope he unfurls a 3-of-15 night at some point in this series.
Bench? Um... Bench? Two nights after getting five points from the second unit, the Cavaliers got a rootin', tootin' 14- nine from Sasha, five from Joe Smith- on Friday. Orlando got 25 from its bench on Wednesday and 26 more on Friday. You can win a championship without a functioning bench- the ‘80s Celtics proved that- but it's not easy to do.
LeBron's Line: 35 points on 12-of-23 shooting, 10-of-12 from the line, 1-of-3 from downtown, with five assists, four rebounds, six turnovers, and one gigantic, game-winning shot.
The End: With one second left in the game, Hedo knocked in a tough jumper from the lane to put Orlando up 95-93. The game was over. The series was over. The season was over. Then on the ensuing play, LeBron got free of Turkoglu, came open above the three-point line, caught the in-bound pass, fired off an off-balance shot just before the horn... and it went in. It went... in. Unbelievable.
I'm still extremely concerned about the course of this series. I have no idea how Cleveland will win a game in Orlando when it can't maintain a 23-point lead at home. But right now, I'm willing to wait on that uncomfortable thought. I just want to bask in this amazing win. And who knows? Maybe this shot will be the catalyst for something special.
Not-so-Fun Fact: Orlando shot 47.9 percent Friday night, including 10-of-23 (43.5 percent) from three-point range. Thus far in the series, the Magic are 19-of-43 from downtown, a blistering 44 percent. They say 40 percent from three equals 60 percent from two- if that's the case, Orlando is in effect shooting around 70 percent in these first two games.It is going to very, very difficult to beat that team the way they are shooting the basketball.
Now, believe it or not, Orlando can go cold, for an entire game, even. They went 5-of-27 from three-point range in Game Four of the Boston series. Unfortunately, the Magic don't seem to ever go cold against Cleveland. In the last nine games between the teams dating back to the 2007-08 season, Orlando has shot under 45 percent only once, and that night they compensated by going 14-of-32 from downtown.
All we can really do at this point is hope they're due for an off-night.
Near-Impossible Odds: Only three teams in NBA Playoff history- the 1969 Lakers, 1994 Rockets and 2005 Mavericks- have won a best-of-seven series after losing the first games at home. So while bouncing back from such a predicament isn't completely out of the question, it sure as hell isn't something you want to bet your dog and lot on. Good thing we won't have to make that bet.
Next: Sunday evening at 8:30, the series continues with Game Three at Amway Arena in Orlando. The Cavaliers have dropped three in a row at the Building Formerly Known as the O-Rena, with their last win coming on February 11, 2008, thanks in large part to forty points from the dear departed Larry Hughes.