After the rollercoaster rides that were the first two games of this Eastern Conference Final, Sunday evening's Game Three in Disneyland was distinctly short on thrills. And for the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was also short on made jumpers, made free throws, execution, and everything else that goes into winning in the Playoffs. Torched in the first two games, Cleveland's defense did somewhat of a better job containing the Orlando Magic, but thanks to a welter of mistakes, it didn't matter. The Magic seized a 2-1 series lead with an ugly, foul-marred 99-89 victory, and now, after their narrow escape from death on Friday, the Cavaliers are right back under the blade again.
They Just... Wouldn't... Fall: 29-of-78; 5-of-26. 37.2 percent from the field; 19.2 percent from three-point range. 15 turnovers. I don't care who you're playing- Orlando, Boston, the Lake Show, the goddamned L.A. Clippers- when you're shooting like that, when you're turning it over like that, you're probably not going to win. That's just all there is to it.
Show up Any Time You Want, Mo: Look, I like Mo Williams. I like what he has brought to the table this year, in terms of shot-making and swag. And it hurts me to have to say this. But right now, he's killing this basketball team. He went 5-of-16 from the field on Sunday night, committed five turnovers, and just to add injury to insult, sustained an elbow-shot from Anthony Johnson that turned the left side of his face into something resembling that of a tomato-can boxer in the 12th round of a one-sided fight. Thus far in the series, Mo is shooting 18-of-56 from the field (32.1 percent), 6-of-24 from downtown (25 percent) and has committed nine turnovers. Not to mention the questionable defense that has always been part of the package. When you hit 3-of-10 from downtown and your percentage actually goes up, that's how you know you're struggling.
Certainly, Mo isn't the only man running cold in this series. Nobody shot the ball well for Cleveland on Sunday evening. But Mo is the one man who has to, has to shoot well in order for the Cavaliers to win. That's what they're paying him to do. Delonte can play tough defense, Big Z can rebound, and LeBron can do everything else other than fly the team charter; but Mo's function on this team is to hit shots. And when he isn't hitting them, he's a liability. Right now, he's Larry Hughes without the quality perimeter defense. I don't like saying it, but that's the way it is. And the bottom line is, if Mo doesn't start hitting shots, this series is not going to end well. Orlando is simply too good, too talented, too deep to be beaten by one man.
LeBron's Line: 41 points on 11-of-28 from the field, 1-of-8 from three-point range, and 18-of-24 from the free-throw line with nine assists, seven rebounds, two steals and a block in 42 punishing minutes. It wasn't a pretty 41 points. LeBron was visibly flagging down the stretch, short-arming jumpers and missing four crucial free throws in the fourth quarter that helped Orlando sustain its narrow lead. I'm not going to hammer him for the free-throw misses; the guy is trying to do everything out there, he's not getting any help, and he's exhausted by the effort. It hurts to see such a magnificent player surrounded by mediocrities. It isn't fair to him. For God's sakes, someone needs to step up and help this man. Because right now, no one is.
From Tall Z to Small Z: Like I said before, Mo Williams has plenty of company in the clang brigade. Chief partner in crime is Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who once again failed to knock down the open shots he's being afforded by Orlando's paint-clogging defense. Big Z shot 3-of-10 on Sunday, making him 13-of-34 for the series (38.2 percent.) He also missed all three of his triple attempts. Z's expanded range has been a boon to the offense for most of the season, but it's about time to scrap that part of his game. He isn't hitting those shots, and the misses are leading to Orlando run-outs, because he's too slow to get back out of that corner and help out on defense. Z for Three is a neat wrinkle against the Charlotte Bobcats and Oklahoma City Thunders of the Association, but it's anything but against the greyhounds from Central Florida.
Burn This Stat: The Cavaliers hoisted 26 three-point attempts on Sunday. That's about twice as many as they should be shooting from behind the arc.
Burn This Stat II: Orlando went to the free-throw line 51 times on Sunday night, making 39. Dwight Howard, normally a 60 percent shooter from the stripe, went 14-of-19 on Sunday- good for nearly 74 percent. He was downright Sikma-esque in the fourth quarter, stepping up and continually knocking down charity tosses to keep the Cavaliers at arm's length. I'm not going to complain about the officiating, not on a night when LeBron shot 24 free throws by himself. I would like to see Hedo Turkoglu penalized at some point for the push-offs he employs on nearly every drive through the lane, but apparently that isn't going to happen.
Speaking of Hedo, he shot 1-of-9 from the field on Sunday and didn't make his first field-goal until midway through the fourth period. Dewey's uncanny accuracy from the line made up for Turk's struggles, which, knowing the way Orlando operates against the Cavaliers, likely won't be repeated for the remainder of this series. The Magic shot 42.9 percent on Sunday and made only six three-pointers. Cleveland wasted an uncommonly poor shooting night from Orlando.
Burn This State III: Cleveland made 13 of its first 14 free-throw attempts, than went 13-of-21 the rest of the way. Pretty much par for the course on this night.
The Bench (or lack thereof): The Cavaliers once again received minimal production from their bench, getting eight points from the reserve unit. Orlando super-sub Mickael Pietrus doubled up Cleveland's bench by himself, scoring 16 points. Mo isn't hitting, Delonte isn't hitting, Z isn't hitting, and the bench isn't doing squat. Other than that, we're in tip-top shape.
Assessment: I'm of two minds here. My glass-half-full side says the Cavaliers played terrible basketball on Sunday night, yet had every opportunity to steal this game. My glass-half-empty side says the game was played at Cleveland's pace, yet the result was a loss- and Orlando was simply missing shots they usually make, and will make again. Either way, it doesn't matter. There are no moral victories this time of year. The Cavaliers had a chance to steal this game, which would have been enormous- and they couldn't do it.
I'll say this- Mike Brown needs to think about changing his defensive philosophy, and fast. Those standard hard shows from the big men aren't doing this team any good. All they're doing is racking up fouls and causing breakdowns defensively, because the big men aren't fast enough to get back on time, the perimeter defenders are forced to collapse, and it's leaving wide-open looks for Orlando's shooters. The strategy may work against every other team in the league, but it doesn't work against this one, and is hasn't worked for most of the last two seasons. Time to do... I don't know- something different. Because what this team is doing right now isn't working.
Next: Game Four, Tuesday night at 8:30 from Orlando. Gotta have it.