No, really. Check the box. Out-rebounded. Out-hustled. More turnovers. Allowed big runs. Gave up 40+ to LeBron again. Allowed 110.7 offensive efficiency. Got to the line fewer times. Let Delonte West get off a little bit. Gave up easy buckets to Varejao.
But that’s the thing with this Magic team. They play terrific basketball for three games, take two out of three with clutch play, defense, and focus. And in the fourth game,w hen they don’t have those things going?
They can just shoot the freaking lights out.
The Magic did one thing insanely well tonight. They manufactured great shots. They would penetrate to create an open three, that the Cavs would run it off. So they would pass to the second man, who the Cavs would run off. And they would pass to the third guy. And you’d see the look of the defender trying to get across court or out of the paint. The “You Have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!” look. “HOW MANY SHOOTERS CAN THEY HAVE?”
When the defense wouldn’t hold tonight, when the focus wasn’t there, when the Cavs went small to accentuate speed, the Magic ran. They got out in front, forced them to pack the lane to stop those big lanky bodies coming down the floor, and then one guy slips to the outside. Usually Pietrus. What are you gonna do?
Delonte West was fantastic tonight. He worked Lee and Rafer Alston inside. He drove and dished. He played active defense, creating turnovers. He worked the glass on shots and took smart, measured shots. If the Cavs will shift to West to be the focus, he can be what Mo Williams is supposed to be.
Meanwhile, Mr. “We gave them too much respect/I guarantee Game 4″ was horrible. Again. The box score looks nice for him, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t show how he went Ben Gordon, Possession Killer time after time in the game. He only had six points in the second half.Â At the half, Sager was applauding him for getting to the line. Only two of his foul shots were techs for defensive three seconds. Meanwhile, he felt the best way to work the Cavs offense, a high performance machine that’s dependent upon all pieces working in unison, into high gear was to shoot his way free. I referenced on Twitter he was going Dillinger. And he hurt his team tonight.
So while the Magic needed to shoot the lights out to get to overtime, then there was overtime.
How big was Big Baby Jesus tonight? Backed down Varejao, dunk. Back down Varejao, score. Back down, draw the foul, knock down free throws. Block LeBron, cause the tie-up. Huge. He played with poise, he played with power, he was dominant. The Cavs had focused on keeping him down all game, they sacrificed the perimeter and the Magic hit a Conference Finals record number of threes. They shifted to the perimeter in overtime, and Howard murdered them inside. What are you gonna do? HOW MANY WEAPONS CAN THEY HAVE?
You might think that Cleveland, a city rife with sports failure at a level that is simply phenomenal, would be pretty sad right now. You might think they’d be rethinking how little they’ve respected this Orlando team, like the rest of the world. And you would be wrong. Smell the confidence.
Mikael Pietrus outscored the Cleveland bench. Again.
Rafer. Freaking. Alston. I defended the guy to the Dream Shake for two years, then defended the trade for Orlando. Then I bailed on him when he was wretched in the first two rounds. He couldn’t finish at the rim. Couldn’t hit shots. Couldn’t hang on to the ball. Defensive liability. And tonight…
HE TOTALLY REDEEMED HIMSELF!
I commented on this to a friend during the game. Great defense isn’t built on turnovers (you listening, Denver?). It’s forcing the offense into a low percentage shot, which means giving the offense certain shots that you know have a low success rate. For Cleveland, that is a Rafer Alston mid-range or three. But Rafer Alston is still a capable point guard who can score. For Orlando, it’s an Anderson Varejao 12 foot jumper or a Zydrunas Ilgausakas 18 footer. Z can knock that down, but you have to live with it. But if you have the choice of a wide open Rafer Alston three or a Flopsy jumper, which are you taking? The idea is constantly drilled into us that key players have to step up in the playoffs, and that only intensifies as the playoffs go on. Well, Rafer Alston has stepped up.
One would think that after James is able to score with what, an 80% success rate outof the post-up, that the Cavs would make that their bread and butter. That person would think wrong. If the Cavs do figure that out, though, the Magic are going to have to go big, which could open up the Cavs backcourt to run more.
There’s a bizarre pattern in play. For three quarters, either Hedo or Lewis will hit big shots, drive consistently, work mismatches, and get buckets. The other one will struggle. Then the fourth quarter comes and they tag off. Lewis played his worst game of the series tonight, until the fourth. And then he just played with juevos of steel.
Wally Szczerbiak was the late bench option for crunch time defender. I’m not kidding.
Let’s be clear on something. The Magic can shoot better from the arc than they did tonight. I’ve seen it. So’s Cleveland, but they’ll claim they don’t remember that game. They hit more tonight, but they shot better in April. My point is that I hear Cleveland fans talking about Orlando just being hot. This isn’t hot. Over 50% from the arc is hot for them. This is consistent for them. The issue coming in was whether Orlando would be able to create a quality look inside a possssion. They haven’t. They’ve created several. And they get their choice of which shot to hit. Do not doubt that Orlando can keep up this pace. Doubt that they can’t hit higher, and that they can’t win when they don’t shoot that well. Their slump game was Game 3. And they won.
Gibson could turn this series for Cleveland, but he’s got to be on the floor, which is unlikely when he does things like foul Anthony Johnson at the arc.
I liked Cleveland in this game. I like Cleveland in the next game. But the Magic are the better team, and it’s not really close.
Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.