Just when you thought it was safe to crown the LeBron James the best finisher in the league and the Cavs champions, Orlando responded with a strong win in Game Three.
Taking the floor at their home court, the Magic came out firing and piled up an early 10-point lead.
Rashard Lewis continued his outstanding offensive performance and buoyed that Magic lead by racking up five quick points. Alston aided the Magic charge as well with seven points early on.
Now it would be the Cavs' turn to pull off a comeback.
With Turkoglu missing shots he usually makes and Howard watching from the bench in foul trouble, a Cavs comeback seemed more than possible.
James came up with one of his-momentum changing chase-down blocks, swiping Lee’s layup out of the air. But Cleveland couldn’t seem to get anything going offensively, and the first quarter ended with the Cavs down 17-24.
It didn’t look like it would go any better for Cleveland at the start of the second quarter when Orlando forced two straight turnovers. But in this seesaw series, momentum can change in a tenth of a second.
The Magic couldn’t capitalize on their defensive stops and the Cavs climbed back into the game, going up 30-29. Still, it didn’t feel as though the Cavs were winning, but rather that the Magic were losing. Orlando went dry at the start of the second quarter and a Flagrant One sent Williams to the line, where he sank both shots.
Cleveland was on a 9-0 run and had taken the lead 34-31 with 5:13 to go in the half. But the Magic weren’t about to let them run away with the game. Orlando came up with a steal, leading to a Pietrus layup.
By halftime the Magic had regained the lead. That dry offensive spell that had captured the Magic's offense at the start of the second quarter was over and they took a 54-48 lead over the Cavs.
Orlando’s offense was firing on all cylinders, and Lee showed he had learned a lesson from LeBron James. Earlier in the first, Lee’s layup was swatted down by James. But in the second, Lee took it to the hoop—despite LeBron.
Howard showed up as well. In spite of foul trouble, he provided a momentous dunk off a one-handed pass from Alston, giving the Magic a 58-50 lead.
Meanwhile, Cleveland’s defense suffered, giving up 13 turnovers before the end of the third quarter. Varejao committed a stupid foul, giving him his fourth personal foul and pushing the team over the foul limit. Ilgauskas was also in foul trouble, meaning both Cavs big men would be seeing less playing time down the stretch.
The Cavs, offense did not fare much better. Their shooting game had been struggling all night—but by the third quarter it started to look like a blooper reel, with shot after shot from the field clanging of the rim or the backboard.
James was doing his best to keep his team in the game. But the most help he received didn’t come from the Cavs bench, but rather the referees.
With under 2:00 to go in the game, James pulled up for a three. Howard came from behind and pulled off an amazing, clean, block, but was astonishingly called for a foul. This was his last to give and it sent him to the bench.
James sunk all three of his foul shots with a disbelieving Howard looking on from the side lines.
Still it was too little too late for the Cavs as the Magic’s Pietrus and Turkoglu both went 2-for-2 on their foul shots in the closing minutes of the game to seal the 89-99 Magic win.
Game Three became a foul-shot drill early on, and the Magic did a better job of capitalizing on free throws. Their defense was able to poke holes in Cleveland all night, coming up with steal after steal.
If the Magic can continue their offensive and defensive assault, it could mean real trouble for Cleveland.
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