The Orlando Magic knocked the Cleveland Cavaliers into a 3-1 hole by taking game four by a score of 116-114 in a thrilling overtime win.
Orlando struck early with Rafer Alston setting the tone, hitting a three just a few minutes into the game. Howard powered up with a rim shaking dunk to put the Magic ahead 5-1. Howard also found his defensive rhythm, blocking shots from Mo Williams and LeBron James.
The only problem is, the Magic have been a streaky team all season and postseason. When there are on, everybody seems to be able to make shots from anywhere on the court. Then they go dry and can’t buy a layup.
It wasn’t any different for the Magic in game four as their offense suddenly evaporated with two minutes left in the first quarter.
The Cavs have had issues this season with their absent bench. And, after Mo Williams supposedly “guaranteed” a win, there was no doubt in my mind that he would come out determined to get into a shooting rhythm.
Williams struggled early on getting his outside shots or even his layups to fall, but he played aggressive ball and got his foul calls. Williams was able to get his foul shots in the basket, and between his success from the line and James’ efforts, the Cavs went on a 13-2 run and were able to take the lead.
However, all it took to get the Magic back in the game was a three from Hedo Turkoglu, which set the Orlando offense in motion again. Mikael Pietrus followed up with another three, and the Magic were back on top and in control of the game. Anthony Johnson showed up as well, hitting a three and then getting a defensive steal that led to a layup and a foul.
With the Magic poised to pull away, Cleveland dug deep into their bench and came up with Wally Szczerbiak, who made a baseline drive and got the foul, putting the Cavs within two points of the Magic.
Delonte West also came up big for the Cavs, providing help on both sides of the court. With West and Williams providing the help James has been looking for since game one, the Cavs went on a 12-0 run with two minutes left in the half.
Daniel Gibson also came off the Cavs' bench to add to the offensive effort, helping to push their lead to eight at halftime.
Just when it seemed the momentum had turned in favor of Cleveland, Alston came out to start the second half by hitting three consecutive shots for seven straight points. The Magic were right back in the game.
From that point on, it was anybody’s game. The lead swung back and forth as fast as the players could move down the court.
Alston was an offensive powerhouse for the Magic, looking at times as though he could score at will. Pietrus was just as explosive on the Orlando end.
It wasn’t all bad for the Cavs, either. Not only did they get production from Williams, West, and James, but Varejao also had what was easily his best game of the series.
Not only did Varejao manage to score underneath, he also provoked Dwight Howard into committing a technical foul. That was Howard's sixth technical in the postseason. If he gets one more, he will be automatically suspended for one playoff game.
With emotions running high, it was clear that this game was going to come down to the wire. After West tied the score 97-97, James drew a foul and went one of two, putting the Cavs ahead 98-97 with less than a minute left in regulation.
Now the Magic needed to respond. Lewis had been absent all night, but he came up big on the next play, scoring the three that put the Magic up 100-98 with just 4.1 seconds left in regulation.
LeBron James wasn’t ready to quit yet and he drew another foul. With a half of a second left on the clock, James hit both free throws, defining the meaning of "clutch".
On the ensuing inbound, Orlando could not get a shot off, and the game went into overtime with the score tied 100-100.
After the Cavs' last second comeback, it felt as though LeBron James was ready to take control. But Dwight Howard proved himself to be Mr. Overtime, powering up three strong dunks in a row to put the Magic ahead 106-105.
Alston, Pietrus, and a resurgent Lewis also hit important shots down the stretch, increasing their lead to six over the Cavs.
However, James wasn’t finished yet, and he got a shot off over the Magic double team and got the foul call. With less than a minute left in overtime, James hit a three that cut the Magic lead to one.
On the ensuing play, Lewis was fouled. Despite his lack of offensive production early on, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy wanted the ball in Lewis’ hands and trusted him to win the game for Orlando.
With 3.2 seconds left in the game, Lewis stepped up to the foul line. Magic fans were on their feet, some cheering wildly and waving signs, some watching nervously and pressing their hands to their heads in anticipation.
If Lewis made both throws, it would give the Magic a three point lead, meaning the Cavs would need a three point shot to tie the game.
If he made one, the Cavs could beat them with a three, and with memories of LeBron James’ epic shot at the end of game two still fresh in both Magic players' and fans' minds, that was not a desirable outcome.
If he made neither, then Cleveland could beat them with any made shot from the paint or the field.
With the weight of the game on his shoulders, Lewis took his first shot. He’d already made two clutch free throws in OT, but this last, most pivotal shot fell short and bounced off the front of the rim. This left the door open for another James’ game winning three.
However, last night, that end of game magic was on Orlando’s side.
Lewis sank his second shot, making the score 114-116 in favor of the Magic.
The ensuing inbound lob went to James, who took the ball across half court and heaved a three that looked on track for the rim. This time, however, even King James couldn’t save his team, and his shot went wide.
Now, to reach the NBA Finals, the Cavs will have to do what only eight teams have accomplished before and climb out of a 3-1 hole.
Meanwhile, the Magic played their best game of the season. While it is true that they haven’t exactly blown out the Cavs, they are getting the close wins. And let’s face it, in the playoffs, a win is still a win.
Rest up Cavs and Magic fans, this next game could be a dagger.