Magic: You'll Need More Than a Broom in This One, LeBron
Lebron James couldn’t miss and the Cleveland Cavaliers jumped out to a 15-point first-half lead, but when it was all said and done, the Magic made a resounding statement in Wednesday night’s series debut.
We’re not going anywhere.
Despite the fact that James lived up to his MVP billing, finishing 20-of-30 from the field, his 49 points were not enough to hold off the Magic and earn the Cavs their ninth straight playoff win in as many games.
Throughout the Cavaliers’ dominating start, I couldn’t help but think the Magic were still in good shape.
As many shots as Cleveland hit, and after watching the Lakers blow out the Houston Rockets in very similar fashion, it was clear this game could have easily been at least a 20-point margin at the half.
But it wasn’t. In fact, if not for Mo Williams’ prayer of a shot just before the buzzer, it would have been just a 12-point Cleveland lead at the break.
Here were James and the Cavs playing their very best basketball, and yet Orlando kept within firing range by feeding Dwight Howard the ball and getting good looks at the basket.
While James carried his team on his back, Howard didn’t have to. Orlando’s bench outscored Cleveland’s by 20 points, and the Magic’s come-from-behind win was kick-started by none other than backup point guard Anthony Johnson
Johnson’s three-pointer at the 10-minute mark gave Orlando an 85-84 fourth-quarter lead—the team’s first of the game—and James, who was on the bench at the time, was rushed back into the action.
And, if Magic fans were still wondering if Rashard Lewis is really worth his $110 million contract, the answer Wednesday night was a resounding yes.
Lewis scored 17 points in the second half, none bigger than his go-ahead three-pointer with 14.7 seconds left play, which put Orlando back on top 107-106.
The series debut was eerily similar to the Lakers’ game-one victory over the Denver Nuggets. Sure Denver played the better game, but it was the Lakers that pulled out the win with their play in the final minutes.
Cleveland, like Denver, won each of its first eight playoff games by double-digits. And, like Denver, the Cavs simply weren’t ready to fight for 48 minutes and pull out a close game.
The pathetic look on Anderson Varejao’s face after Hedo Turkoglu pump faked and drew the shooting foul at the one-minute mark said it all. Has Varejao ever seen Paul Pierce play?
I hate that play as much as anyone—almost as much as I hate Pierce who’s benefited from that call more than anyone else in the league—but there’s no question as to whether or not it’s a foul, and anyone who’s ever watched a playoff game knows better than to be surprised by the move.
Now I’m not saying the series is over or that the Cavs can’t win close games. After all, James is the best finisher outside of Kobe Bryant in these playoffs. The bottom line is James simply cannot win four games by himself.
That’s not to say James isn’t a team player either. He did a fantastic job of getting everyone involved in the first half, but inevitably, when the game is on the line, the Cavs all look to their superstar.
And by the time the fourth quarter rolled around in Wednesday night’s match-up, James was fatigued. As hard as he played on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, how could he not be?
But it cost him. James missed three free throws down the stretch, and Cleveland head coach Mike Brown had to call a timeout in the final minutes just to give James—who stood hunched over with cramps after the final horn—a breather.
My point is simply this: the media pundits who spent all their time this week trying to figure out how many games it would take for the Cavaliers to advance to the NBA Finals forgot the Orlando Magic are bigger than LeBron James.
As much as David Stern and freelance basketball fans would like to see Kobe Bryant and Lebron James compete for an NBA title—I mean Nike already made a series of commercials—both of these series are bigger than the two individual superstars. (For further evidence see Howard’s six personal fouls to James’ one.)
Unless Kobe and LeBron’s teammates can step up and play like champions themselves, the fan-favorite matchup is more possible than probable.
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