How the Magic Tortoise Beat the Cavalier Hare

Roger PAnalyst IJune 2, 2009

The Magic and Cavaliers only played two different games in their six-game series.

They just played each one three times.

It's not our design here to explore how individual plays, sets, or players affected the game. That's been done and the answers are clear—Orlando's consistent pick-and-roll offense, paired with the deepest roster of three-point shooters in the league, outlasted a one-man Cleveland team.

Done and done.

But looking at each game as a whole gives us a fresh perspective, and tells us the whole story in a single glance.

As a visual aid, I present the game flow charts of each game, as charted by the folks over at ESPN.

If you're unfamiliar with such charts, they graph points scored (on the Y axis) against time (the X axis). So which ever team is on top, vertically, is leading at that time. The left side is the beginning of the game, the right side is the end.

Look for flat spots—those are times when a team was kept scoreless for a time. A sharp slant upward means they scored a lot of points quickly. Any time the lines cross is a lead change.

These charts are useful for getting an overall picture of how the game played out—who got hot when, and how close the game was from start to finish.

With the Cavs represented as dark blue and the Magic as light blue, here are Games One, Two, and Five, all held in Cleveland (the original charts are found on the ESPN site here, here, and here):


Look similar at all?

In the three games in Cleveland, the Cavs jumped out to an early lead in each game by exploding out of the gate with unmatchable transition offense. Then they tired out after the quarter, held on to the lead until the break, and then gave away the farm in the second half.

LeBron James fought it at the end every time, of course. But with all three games close at the end, Orlando was able to steal one.

Stan Van Gundy couldn't have been more pleased with how Games One and Two went against the top-seeded team in the league. They gave away a big lead early in each game, but stuck by their guns. In each case, they were able to come back.

Yet it wasn't a dramatic comeback in any game, as you can see. It was the fact that Orlando has a roster full of guys that can run the pick-and-roll, and they ran it for 48 minutes.

In contrast, here's Games Three, Four, and Six—the games in Orlando (the original ESPN charts are here, here, and here):

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In Orlando, the game flow was completely different. The Cavs didn't have a home crowd to leverage into momentum early, and the game stayed close throughout.

James poured in an absurd amount of points, but was countered by the Magic's extraordinarily-consistent pick-and-roll execution. Throw in a couple of lead changes, perhaps, and then the game's close to the end.

The Magic win all three, thanks to their depth of clutch shooters.

It's not a perfect formula, of course—Game Six in Orlando certainly wasn't close throughout. James didn't unload with as many points either. Maybe that was the cause, maybe it was the effect.

You have to give Cleveland credit for keeping it close in Games Three and Four against a merciless Orlando crowd.

But while James was scoring 40 points and trying alone to will his team to victory, the Magic were still spreading the ball around and running the pick-and-roll with whoever was playing at the time—consistently getting fairly equal scoring from Turkoglu, Lewis, Alston, Pietrus, and Lee.

It's clear that this depth was a big piece of the difference for the Magic. Much was made about the struggles of Mo Williams and Delonte West over the course of the series, whereas no one on the Orlando roster had that sort of pressure (aside from Dwight Howard, who completely delivered).

It's not flashy, but consistent offense won four games against the Cleveland juggernaut.

And it landed Orlando in the Finals.

There's no coincidence that the two teams meeting in the finals have two of the deepest rosters of scoring weapons.

What Orlando does with Howard and their slew of three-point-shooting forwards and guards, Los Angeles can counter with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, etc.

It's going to be a good finals. The Magic will certainly have a chance if they keep playing their game.