Rashard Lewis hit a three pointer with 14.7 seconds left to turn a 106-104 lead by the Cleveland Cavaliers into a 107-106 home loss to the Orlando Magic in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night.
With the loss the Cavs surrendered the home court advantage for the series. Game two is Friday night in Cleveland.
No way should the Cavs have allowed Lewis to make that three-pointer.
Cleveland had just rallied to take the lead on an and-one by LeBron James, who had 49 points, a Cavs' playoff record. James's old-fashioned three point play had the added bonus of fouling out Magic center Dwight Howard, who led Orlando with 30.
So here were the Cavs leading by two.
Smart teams don't give up a three pointer when holding a two point lead with under 15 seconds. But the Cavs weren't smart.
During the time out before Lewis's shot, James could be seen telling his teammates over and over, "All we need is one stop."
A complete stop would have been ideal. But just holding the Magic to two would have all but guaranteed nothing worse than overtime.
Cavs Coach Mike Brown should have told his players to go belly to belly with every Orlando player on the three point arc, daring—even inviting—them to drive around them for an open two pointer.
Instead, Anderson Varejao stayed a cautious step away from Lewis, intent on trying to cover both a shot and a possible drive.
Lewis rose up and launched a perfect—and because Varejao was trying to have it both ways—lightly contested three pointer.
The Cavs came out of halftime with a 15 point lead and proceeded to be outscored 30-19 in the third quarter. But even after blowing a big lead, the Cavs were looking at nothing more difficult than winning a Howard-less overtime to grab a 1-0 lead in the series.
One reasonably smart play is all that was required.
They didn't make it.