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May 21, 2009
Playoff Prospectus
Undefeated No More

by Kevin Pelton

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Orlando 107, Cleveland 106 (Orlando leads series 1-0)
Pace: 88.6
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 125.0, Cleveland 115.6

Storylines change quickly during the NBA playoffs. Try to keep up.

A week ago yesterday, the Orlando Magic was left for dead after blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Boston and moving within one loss of elimination. Dwight Howard complained about his touches, and people mused about Stan Van Gundy's job security. The night before, the Cleveland Cavaliers completed their 8-0 romp through the first two rounds of the playoffs amidst talk of reaching the NBA Finals undefeated. That sure seems like a lot longer than a week ago now, doesn't it?

Even if Rashard Lewis' three-point attempt had rimmed out instead of proving decisive in Game One, the Magic would have demonstrated with their effort that this is going to be a competitive series, not the mismatch the first two series were for Cleveland. Getting an early win on the road merely reinforces that point.

The Cavaliers were dominant in the early going, catching Orlando off guard by putting LeBron James on Rafer Alston. The Magic was stagnant in the first quarter, uncertain how to attack Cleveland. That quickly changed, and although Orlando still trailed at halftime, the team's 29-point second quarter was a good sign. The Magic never slowed down and won this game with offense, scoring on five of its final six possessions to pull out the win.

What stood out about Orlando's offense in the closing moments was its diversity. The Magic mostly put Hedo Turkoglu in pick-and-roll situations, taking advantage of the fact that he followed up his 12-assist Game Seven outing against Boston with 14 dimes this time around. However, the last two possessions saw Rafer Alston run the pick-and-roll to set up Lewis for a baseline jumper, and Lewis and Turkoglu play off of each other on opposite sides of the court to create just enough room for Lewis' winning three.

By contrast, everything the Cavaliers ran was initiated by LeBron James. On this night, there was no other choice, even with doing everything on offense and chasing Turkoglu around on defense taking such a visible toll on James that he lingered well after the buzzer battling cramps. James scored eight points and had an assist in the final four minutes, and the other Cleveland scores were set up by James--as was the Cavaliers' empty possession, Delonte West's missed three-point attempt from the corner that could have given them back the lead. Ultimately, Cleveland scored more than well enough to win, both down the stretch and for the game as a whole. It was the Cavaliers' defense that let them down.

The Magic seemed to have the most success running a play that has been strangely absent from Van Gundy's end-game playbook in the past, the Turkoglu/Dwight Howard pick-and-roll. Turkoglu was able to attack a flat-footed Zydrunas Ilgauskas, getting to the basket for a key layup. When Cleveland stopped this pick-and-roll, it was by trapping Turkoglu and conceding an open three to MickaŽl Pietrus, who was unable to connect.

For Howard, it was the kind of offensive performance that could either shut up the critics dubious of his offensive game--because he was so brilliant--or give them ammo because he can't deliver the same effort on a consistent basis. Making Ilgauskas look like he was wearing cement shoes, Howard out-quicked and out-jumped him all night en route to 30 points on 14-of-20 shooting. It was Howard's scoring which kept Orlando close enough for the rest of his teammates to get going.

Foremost among those other contributors was Lewis, who scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting. In addition to the de rigueur three-pointers (three of them, in four attempts), Lewis showed the ability to get to the basket off the dribble, one more facet of his well-rounded game. The winning three showed why this is a tough matchup for Anderson Varejao, whose instinct is to offer help instead of sticking with a shooter on the perimeter. That helped create the opening Lewis needed.

Credit also goes to Pietrus, who contributed timely scoring with 13 points in addition to dealing with James much of the night. There would be no stopping James, not with the league's MVP locked in from midrange most of the evening, but Pietrus did as good a defensive job as is possible when the opponent scores 49 points. (Admittedly, this sounds like damning with faint praise.) In general, those attempts from between the 15-foot mark and the three-point line are what you want James (or almost any player) taking. When he's making those shots at a 66.7 percent clip (6-of-9), however, even they become awfully efficient.

James' performance was offset by the fact that West and Mo Williams struggled all evening, making a combined 10-for-32 from the field, including 5-for-16 from three-point range. I think that was largely the product of an off shooting night more than anything the Magic did defensively outside of simply rotating well.

It still seems silly to dwell on those misses on a night when the Cavaliers scored at a rate virtually identical to their playoff performance in the first two rounds. (You can probably add a couple of points per 100 possessions to Cleveland's total. Something funny happened with team offensive rebounds, and we estimate Orlando as having six more possessions than the Cavaliers, which is obviously not possible.) No, Mike Brown's attention between now and Game Two must be focused at the defensive end. The Magic created issues with quickness up front, and Brown may be forced to consider going smaller, whether that means moving Varejao to center and James to power forward and putting an extra shooter on the floor in Wally Szczerbiak (which would mean Szczerbiak having to defend either Lewis or Turkoglu, admittedly problematic in its own right) or putting Joe Smith or Ben Wallace in the middle.

Cleveland has absolutely no need to panic about a game that was easily winnable. However, the Cavaliers have been tested for the first time all postseason, and it will be interesting to see how they respond in Game Two.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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