First half: lots of energy, focus and the like. The Cavs came out of the gates really strong; Z was knocking down jumpers, James was skying for rebounds (you can always tell when he’s pumped up, cause he jumps about 12 feet in the air for simple rebounds) and the Cavs quickly built a 22-11 lead. However, Orlando made a nice run and the Cavs led by just 5 at the quarter break. The second period worked out pretty much the same way; the Cavs would build various 5-7 point lead and Orlando would manage to cut them back down to 2 or 3. With a little over three minutes to go in the half, the Cavs held a 49-42 lead but headed into halftime up just 53-50.
The third period… ugh. Orlando came out shooting the ball extremely well, hitting three straight long balls and shooting 5-7 overall to start the half. Five minutes into the third period, the Magic had turned a 3 point deficit into a 6 point lead. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers seemed wary of challenging Howard inside and settled for a lot of jumpers. Orlando’s defensive pressure jumped up a notch and the Cavalier offense got out of sorts (we got to see Anderson Varejao attempting baseline fade-a-ways. Not good).
The fourth period… that’s winning time. LeBron started the period by nailing a 25 foot bomb to tie the game at 75. Orlando responded by hitting a trey of their own. It was on. The fourth period had 7 lead changes and lord knows how many ties. LeBron was the dominant force of the period, scoring 15 points and hitting the go ahead 3-pointer with 47 seconds left. Mo was the only other Cavalier to have multiple baskets in the fourth, scoring 8 points (including a couple of clutch bombs). Joe Smith had the only non-Mo/LeBron basket of the period, hitting a put back early in the fourth.
LeBron James is ridiculous. LeBron finished with 43 points, 12 boards, 8 assists, 4 steals and a block in 43 minutes. He shot 15-27 FG, 4-7 from downtown and 9-10 from the line. His jumper was falling early and often; I don’t like when he settles for his J (because it’s not nearly as consistent as he thinks it is) but it was falling on St. Paddy’s Day. He was hitting his long 2s (about a step inside the arc) and his treys were falling as well. Defensively, I thought he was OK; ya, he had another chase down block, but they could’ve/should’ve put him on Turkoglu early on (as Hedo was killing the Cavs- more on this in a bit).
Mo Williams reprised his role as Robin. Mo had another stellar offensive output, scoring 21 points on 9-20 shooting (3-8 3pt) to go along with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Mo hit some clutch treys down the stretch (both times giving the Cavs a lead) and he took over the game for part of the second quarter, at one point scoring 9 straight Cavalier points.
The defense had a few issues. I guess the Cavs weren’t going to let Howard beat ’em, because while the limited the big fella’s output, the rest of the Magic had their way. Cleveland would double team Howard on the block, but then neglect to cover the cutter, allowing Dwight to collect some easy assists. Orlando’s backcourt absolutely murdered the Cavaliers; Rafer Alston led the Magic with 23 points (8-16 shooting) and Courtney Lee poured in 19 (9-13 FG). Meanwhile, Hedo Turkoglu seemingly got to the rim whenever he wanted. The Cavs could never seem to get a body on Turkoglu when he turned the corner off of the pick and roll and he made them pay with both his scoring and his passing (16 points and 7 assists).
Other concerns: where is the help? LeBron was great, Mo was awesome- this is all well and good. Delonte West? He seemed passive, going just 4-10 from the floor for 8 points, while only getting a single assist and rebound (I know he giving up 5 inches in most matchups, but still). I thought Z did a pretty good job (especially on the glass) but he shot just 3-10 (also 8 points) to go with his 11 boards. The bench? Well, they combined for 5 points, 8 boards and 6 assists (weirdest part? 5 of those assists belong to the nortiously selfish Wally Szczerbiak- who left the game with a knee sprain. Awesome).
Speaking of the bench: Daniel Gibson didn’t play. Considering Boobie’s recent play (mediocre) as well as the matchup (Orlando has a lot of big wing players), it shouldn’t be a huge shocker. Boobie didn’t look all too thrilled with sitting. Another suprise, at least to me, was the fact that Darnell Jackson continues to get some minutes here and there over JJ Hickson. Jackson played a bit to start the second quarter and hit a free throw and grabbed a board.
I thought Dwight Howard had a so-so game. I don’t get how this guy only finished with 8 shot attempts. That is stupid. Rashard Lewis shot 8 treys (missing all 8, natch) and Dwight only got 8 attempts total? I love Z and Andy, but there’s no way Dwight Howard (who’s built like a freaking cartoon character) shouldn’t score in the 4th period. (But then again, I always think that NBA teams aren’t using their big men enough; it would kill me when Shaq would score twice in a row, but then the Lakers wouldn’t look his way for 3-5 possessions. I never think Yao gets enough touches and I’ve always thought Z should have his number called a couple more times a night). Howard was also the recipient of a killer 3-second call with 30 seconds to go. Now, I’m all about calling the bigs when their camping out in the lane, but a 3-second call with 30 seconds to go in 2 point game between two Eastern Conference powers… kinda weak, no?
Home court looks more and more likely. With 15 games to go, the Cavs are now 5 games ahead of both Boston and Orlando in the loss column. I don’t want to count the chickens before they hatch or anything (I mean, this is a Cleveland team, let’s not forget), but with 10 more games at home, home court throughout the East looks extremely likely. The Cavs face the Blazers Thursday night and then Atlanta on Saturday afternoon.