So much for feeling any pressure.
There was no drama and no last second suspense. The Orlando Magic came out of the locker room ready to advance to the NBA Finals and they took no prisoners. It was the Cavaliers who gave the Mickey Mouse effort and they paid for it with their playoff lives as the Magic won going away 103-90.
It's hard to say whether the Cavaliers collapse was due to match up issues, a shooting slump, fatigue/conditioning or simply not playing up to the pressure of the situation. In all likelihood it was a little bit of all of that along with the fact that the Magic are just damned good. But regardless of the reasons why, the Cavs find themselves wondering how a season that looked destined to end much more gloriously instead ended convincingly before June even began.
It's cliché to even say it but LeBron James led the Cavaliers in Game 6 with 25 points on 8-20 shooting. But this was a buttoned down and frustrated effort from James who consistently saw the lane clogged with Magic defenders taking away his runs to the rim. It was an LBJ who just looked worn down from the toll the first five games took out of him as he had to carry nearly the entire load just to get this series to a sixth game.
Mo Williams and Delonte West shot 16-31 in support of LeBron but they were just 2-8 as the Magic ran out to a big lead. Williams hit a few shots when the game was out of reach and West ran and defended his ass off as is his way, but the bottom line is that this was a series that exposed the Cavs lack of bulk, height and athleticism.
The Cavs had absolutely no answer for Orlando big man Dwight Howard. Howard scored at will to the tune of 40 points and he grabbed seemingly every rebound (14). The Magic smartly and efficiently went to Superman on a majority of their possessions and Howard either scored or efficiently passed to an open shooter. Rashard Lewis added 18 points and Mikael Pietrus dropped in 14 points off the bench for the Magic who earned a trip to Los Angeles Thursday to face the Lakers for the title.
Not only do the Magic wear the Cavs out in the paint but you watched Anderson Varejao chase Rashard Lewis around the court all series to no avail. If you are matching up Anderson Varejao on Lewis for an extended series you're fighting a losing battle, well, pretty much two of every three games.
The Cavs need to look at acquiring an athletic wing player of their own and some bulk in the center position. That wing player (and the first person to suggest Sasha Pavlovic gets punched squarely in the face) would provide the perimeter defense that was missing in this series and would likely send West to a bench role where his energy and abilities might be even more valuable.
The bulk in the middle gives you a guy who can at least make a physical center like Howard feel the weight of a post defender on his back night after night and eliminate the need for constant double teams. It too would potentially move Varejao (if he's re-signed) back to a bench role where he could combine with West to provide some serious depth and quality to that second unit.
But the Cavaliers brain trust knows where its bread is buttered and who they have to appease. Danny Ferry and Dan Gilbert will get it done. Building a team is a process and Ferry and Gilbert have improved this team's talent base in consecutive years. Losing this series is another kick in the stomach to a fan base that truly didn't need it or deserve it but when you lay your head down at night you can at least rest assured that there are competent people making the decisions in the Cavs front office.
They Got Next
It's Orlando and the Lakers starting Thursday night in Los Angeles. ‘The Q' will be dark until November when the Wine & Gold dial it back up. It's no solace now, but right up until basically tonight, this Cavaliers team made Cleveland extremely proud over the past 6 months. That makes tonight all the more difficult to take.