Tony Dejak/Associated Press Really, this game wasn’t much different from Game 1 — early deficit, furious comeback, closely-played fourth quarter and a game-winning 3-pointer. Only this time, it will be LeBron James’ off-balance, awkward, rim-rattling heave that will surely be shown on highlight shows and Ultimate LeBron for years to come. Sure, there are certain elements of the play that Magic fans can question. The Magic could’ve double-teamed LeBron or put Mickael Pietrus on him, for starters. But at the end of the day, it was just an incredible shot — in all honesty, one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen and what will likely be a major building block in the legend of LeBron James. According to the stats, James will make that shot about four out of ten times in a super-clutch situation. The Magic will generally take those odds, particularly on a road playoff game against the NBA’s No. 1 seed. But when it left his hand, you knew it was going in. Stan Van Gundy took responsibility for the shot, saying he should’ve drawn up a better defensive scheme: “I should’ve defended it differently,” he said. “It’s crushing enough to lose as a coach, but when you feel like you’re the guy who could’ve made the difference, it hurts a lot more.” The back-breaking shot saved the Cavs from dropping to a 2-0 series deficit, which would’ve been exceptionally difficult to come back from heading back to Orlando. It’s amazing what one shot can do — the Cavs are the ones on the up-and-up and flying South with plenty of confidence. James getting inside James made a concerted effort to get to the rim, rarely settling for jumpers while continually dodging and drumming through defenders on his way to the hoop. 15 of his 23 field-goal attempts were from the painted area, and he reached the free-throw line 12 times. He was almost single-handedly responsible for putting Howard into some semi-foul trouble, forcing Howard to sit out a few minutes in the fourth quarter. After a second-half full of border-line blocks that could’ve been charges, James was called for two offensive charges and a traveling violation in the final minutes. Kudos to the refs — who were under intense scrutiny from both teams all night — for making the correct calls in the face of the league’s most polarizing player. Turk, Lewis carrying the load Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis again proved that they’re capable of being the No. 2 and No. 3 guys (in no particular order) on a title-contending team. Lewis weathered James’ dominating night by scoring 23 points including four 3-pointers, and Turkoglu continued to win back the hearts of Magic fans everywhere. Turk — or Mr. Fourth Quarter, as he’s now earned back that nickname — hit a massive 3-pointer to tie the game at 93-93 in the final minute, and then sunk a 14-footer over Sasha Pavlovic to put Orlando ahead 95-93 with 1 second left. Turkoglu has collectively earned back the trust of Orlando, something he lost with a mediocre first 12 games to the playoffs. In the past three games he’s averaging 19.7 points and 10 assists, all while limiting the ugly flops and unnecessary turnovers. Oh, and the defense Orlando’s having some problems with this guy named LeBron James. They’ve all but abandoned the Courtney Lee experiment, so it’s up to Turkoglu and Pietrus to stop the unstoppable force. Pietrus does a much better job than Turkoglu, and that’s pretty much based off effort. I don’t mean this as a way to knock Turkoglu, but Pietrus expends a lot more energy than Turkoglu on defense and he’s much better at fighting through off-the-ball screens than Turkoglu is. And Pietrus’ athleticism allows him to get underneath James a little bit more. Pietrus played 17 minutes tonight, using four fouls while spending all of his time guarding LeBron. I’d like to see Pietrus play more, but a little bit of early foul trouble kept him out of the game tonight — hence, we had a JJ Redick sighting, and the people’s champ scored seven points. Mo Williams struggled again tonight, hitting 7-of-21 shots for 19 points. A lot of those points were in the fourth quarter, though, as he hit a big 3 and a nice jumper from the baseline on consecutive possessions to stay even with Orlando down the stretch. Williams is becoming Public Enemy No. 1 in Orlando — his constant complaining and dicey tactics for foul calls are bad enough, and then he threw the ball at Dwight Howard in a dead-ball situation (no technical, not even a delay of game… what?). Williams is sure to be introduced to a flurry of boos on Sunday night. I watched the game in the company of my friend Michael White, who blogs for the Orlando Sentinel. He was a bit heated after the game, to say the least — and I think he sums up the thoughts of Orlando fans pretty well:
There isn’t a scale available in science to measure how bad this sucks. I am despondent beyond all rational thought. One freaking second. One freaking second. Fortunately, it happened on a Friday. Otherwise there’d be two days of Rome is Burning and PTI twisting the knife further into the collective intestines of Magic fans. In the grand scheme of things though, what can you do? The game’s greatest player hit a great shot. The series is tied at 1 and the Magic have home-court advantage. But still… Of course there is no way in hell Turk should have been covering LeBron. Where was Mickael Pietrus?
At the end of it all, it’s 1-1. It was a tough loss tonight, and if you’re a Magic fan you’re probably upset, but take it in — those are two of the best basketball games you’ll ever see. We’ve got two evenly matched teams here, and if this we’re soccer we’d still be tied at an aggregate score of 202-202. This next week is going to be a lot of fun.