Magic Survive Third Quarter Run, Rally to Defeat Cavaliers 101-95.


Sunday afternoon’s rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals had the look and feel of a playoff game. The crowd was into it, the play was physical and the stars stepped up. Orlando got off to an excellent start only to see the Cavaliers make a third quarter run, quickly turning a 49-43 halftime deficit into a 59-53 lead. The Cavaliers had an 85-80 lead with 5:56 to play when the game began to turn around. Vince Carter’s dunk ignited a 9-0 run and the Magic held on for a 101-95 victory. LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal were fantastic for the Cavs. James scored 33 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had six assists while O’Neal finished with 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Dwight Howard led the Magic with 22 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks.


As soon as the game started, you could tell how physical it was going to be. Dwight Howard wanted to make Shaq eat his words while Shaq wanted to back up all of trash that he talked after their last meeting. Both superstars had a point to prove and both played very well. Howard scored 22 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked four shots while O’Neal scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting.

The Magic have a reputation for being soft but Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy disagrees with this notion and he used Sunday night’s win as part of his reasoning: “It was a very physical game – very, very physical game,” Van Gundy said. “Some games are like that and you fight through it and you know I’ve said before, people can have whatever views they want of our team and they’ve had a view for over two-and-a-half years that we’re a soft team and so my response is always go back and look at our record against the teams that are supposed to be tough. Look at our record against Boston, look at record against Cleveland and go from there.”

Dwight Howard had some success going to his quicker, more athletic post moves while O’Neal relied on his usual power – he hammered home a dunk in the second quarter all over Howard.

After O’Neal complained to reporters about receiving double-teams 10 days ago, it was surprising to see  the Cavs double-team Dwight Howard so often. Antawn Jamison and J.J. Hickson were frequently seen offering the big man in the middle help. After the game, O’Neal denied the double-teams, telling reporters he “didn’t have any help.” O’Neal later admitted that Howard was double-teamed when O’Neal was not on the floor.

After the game Sunday, O’Neal was much more complimentary towards Howard. “Dwight is one of the only true big men left. I am sure (the physical nature of the game) didn’t bother him. I sure don’t mind it. You have two great strong guys, old bull, young bull going at it, it’s a good game to watch. I think he has a lot more jumping ability than I had. Dwight is going to be Dwight. I am sure he wants to focus on being Dwight. When I was younger, I tried to focus on being Shaq. I wish him well.”

Shaq went on to say that he didn’t want to help Howard with his game, because he is “Microsoft” and Howard is “Apple” so he can’t divulge any information to the competition.

Funny how much less Shaq has to say when his team loses.

The Shaq-Howard battle was the most intriguing storyline, but LeBron James, as he always does, stole the spotlight (at least for three quarters). He was phenomenal. The “King” finished with 33 points, nine rebounds and six assists and it seemed like he could have much more – that’s how good he is. At one point in the second quarter, James grabbed a shot attempt by Howard in mid-air and went coast-to-coast for a layup. The Magic didn’t play badly on the defensive end against James. For the most part, Matt Barnes had the task of guarding James and he told reporters what you have to do against James. “Make him work,” Barnes said. “You got to make him work. He’s gonna score, he’s gonna make great plays, he’s gonna get calls. You just got to fight hard, stay in to him, stay physical and stay aggressive.”

James did make some questionable decisions down the stretch. He settled for some long contest jump shots and made a key turnover when he was called for traveling with the Cavs up three. James finished the fourth quarter with just three points on 1-of-5 shooting.

Heading into the fourth quarter, Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter were having nights to forget. Nelson had 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and five turnovers through the first three quarters. Carter had three points on 1-of-6 shooting, but the combination took over down the stretch. Vince Carter’s vintage dunk spark Orlando’s 9-0 run that gave them an 89-85 lead. Nelson’s two long jumpers, first a two-pointer and then a three-pointer, capped that 9-0 run. In the fourth quarter, the two combined to score 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, had three assists and turned the ball just once.

After the game, Van Gundy gave a lot of credit to his backcourt and told reporters that he should have gone to Carter earlier in the game.

Carter used his post game when he was matched up with the smaller Delonte West and Anthony Parker to get rolling while the outside shots finally started to drop for Nelson.

Carter thrived in the pick-and-roll with Nelson, telling reporters that  it was a play he ran in New Jersey. Van Gundy said the same, telling reporters “Vince has been in those situations before and I think we’re looking for ways to get him back in to some of the stuff that has been more comfortable for him and it worked well today.”

Van Gundy was happy to see his guards close out the game, telling reports that every great team has a closer, telling the media, “I think every one of the really good teams in this league has got to have a finisher.”

The performance of Rashard Lewis should not be overlooked. Once again, the man  who ESPN referred to as a “Cavs-killer” on Sunday evening, hit another big shot. There are only a handful of players that I would trust to take a shot over Lewis – he has hit two many big shots, especially against Cleveland, to say otherwise.

On Sunday afternoon, Carter was very effective down the stretch but the Magic Van Gundy noted that the Magic won this game as a team. “Vince was great down the stretch,” Van Gundy said. “Jameer hit tough shots, Dwight carried us until everybody else could get going. Those four guys (Cater, Nelson, Howard and Rashard Lewis) that we really depend on were tremendous. I thought everybody on our team fought hard, we got a lot more out of our bench today. J.J. and MP both made some shots.”

Van Gundy was very happy to get the win saying, “Just other than the first four or five minutes of the second half, a game to be happy with and proud of.”

Game Notes:

  • Dwight Howard tied a franchise record by collecting his 18th consecutive double-double.
  • Who does he hold the record with? You guessed it, current Cavs Center Shaquille O’Neal.
  • Nelson led the team in assists for the 25th time this season.
  • No Magic player would outright said it but reading between the lines, you could tell the team was extra happy to get this victory.
  • The Magic limited their turnovers, giving the ball away just 10 times.
  • The Cavs dominated the glass collecting 43 rebounds to Orlando’s 34. Surprisingly, O’Neal had just five of those boards.
  • Cleveland lost their third straight game for the first time in two years.

Next Up: The Magic get a few days off before traveling to Houston to face the Rockets on Wednesday – Van Gundy was very excited about his 39-hour break as the Magic won’t practice until Tuesday.

Final Thought: What a big win to get from a confidence standpoint – the Magic didn’t want to go down 3-0 to Cleveland this year.

It was just a really fun game to watch and had to make any fan very excited about a potential Eastern Conference Finals rematch.

Van Gundy agreed.

"“I’m sure everybody in there enjoyed watching that one. I mean the best players all player really well. Physical, tough, competitive game.”"

You can find a quick recap of the game here.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here.)