"Not even close Bud."
It could be the Cavs 3-1 series deficit against the Orlando Magic that has me mixing my iconic movie metaphors but it may be something else altogether. Maybe it's ignorance, maybe it's naiveté or homerism and maybe it's just flat out stupidity, but I'm not feeling as distraught right now as I should be given the circumstances.
I still have an unshakeable faith in this Cavaliers team.
A 3-1 hole is a mighty deep hole to dig out of when you look at it holistically (no pun intended). But I can't get past just how closely contested this series has been and how each game has hinged on a key play here or a key shot there. And that's looking at it from both sides of the mid court line. The Magic could be resting and waiting for the Lakers-Nuggets winner but for a tick on the clock and an epic shot from LeBron James in Game 2. The Cavs could be looking at closing this series out at home Thursday night but for a hanging, clutch jumper by Hedo Turkoglu in Game 1 and a ridiculous, fall away three pointer by Rashard Lewis in Game 4. Arguably, this series is three individual shots in 197 minutes of play from being over or completely reversed. Arguably, this series is tied 2-2 after four games if not for the two inches that separated Delonte West from a loose ball Tuesday night near the end of regulation.
It's been that close. That maddeningly close.
So someone tell me why those bounces and those shots can't turn around and even out over the next five days?
I may be being overly optimistic given the circumstances. I completely understand that the Magic are on a roll of grand proportions and make every trip down the court a jailbreak in terms of the Cavaliers defending them. There are seemingly nine open Magic shooters stroking open, silky three point shots on every possession and their misses draw deep breaths of relief and the feeling that doom has been averted, if only temporarily. They are good, to understate things considerably.
Make no mistake; this Magic team has earned their advantage in this series. This is not about curses or The Cleveland Experience, bad calls or lucky bounces or any other mystical or otherworldly forces at play. The Magic are a match up nightmare for a lot of teams, especially a Cavalier team that is undersized and length-challenged on the defensive end of the court.
But even with that acknowledgement this is a series where every singe game has been in the balance in the last couple of minutes. Thus far Orlando has made the plays they needed to make to earn the series lead and to get to the precipice of The Finals.
But that doesn't mean anything Thursday night. And that's all the Cavaliers can focus on as they prepare for Game 5. The Cavs are still a Mo Williams big night away from making things very interesting. They are still a combined 45% shooting night from Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Williams and West away from applying a great deal of heat on Orlando. They are one win (and maybe one Dwight Howard outburst) away from taking this series back to Orlando where the Magic will wear the burden of pressure for perhaps the first time all series.
Game 5 will tell us a lot about the Cavaliers and whether they have the heart and mindset to be champions or whether they were a very good regular season team that wilted under the hot lights of May. It'd be easy to call it a great season that ended with a tough match up and to close the shop until next November.
I don't think this team has that level of quit in them.
The Cavs must re-commit to their principles on both sides of the ball, especially offensively. They have to attack the basket en masse, especially at home where favorable whistles often blow, and not just with James. But when James does attack the rim and breaks down the Magic defense, as he assuredly will time and time again, their shooters have got to knock down the resulting open looks. It's not as if all of Williams' or West's shots have been contested. It's not as if ‘Z' has had a hand in his face from 16 feet away with regularity.
Defensively I'd feel a whole lot better if they changed up their practice of that ‘hard show' on the Magic's staple screen and roll. Concentrate on playing one-on-one against Howard with any number of guys during the course of the game and hammer him all night. Make him beat you from the free throw line instead of with a quick pass to an open shooter who was left open because your big men are too slow to properly execute the defense and who require help from a little guy who had to leave a shooter to give it.
But for me it comes down more to executing and making shots. The Cavs have simply not fired on all offensive cylinders in this series, even with due praise to the Magic for their above average defense. If the Cavs come out on Thursday and hit on all eight of those cylinders they're going to win that basketball game and send this series back to Disney World with the Magic looking at their first seeds of doubt.
The Cavaliers and their fans cannot look at this predicament as needing to win three straight. There is only one game left to worry about and it tips off at 830pm tomorrow night at ‘The Q'. If the Cavaliers can win that one then they're going back to Disney World for a couple of days.
If they lose they're taking the kids.
One game. Get it done.