So, this is what a loss feels like. Through a combination of dominating their postseason opponents and the layoffs while waiting for each successive round rounds to begin, the Cavs hadn't lost a game in over a month. Even their last loss (April 15th against the Sixers) didn't feel too bad, as it was a "meaningless" game that had no effects on playoff seeding. This loss to the Magic, reminiscent of the Browns' 2003 playoff loss to the Steelers (the highest of highs, and ultimately, the lowest of lows), feels like a sucker punch to the collective gut of the fan base. Yeah, this one hurt.Cry Me a Cuyahoga River:
Take 75% of Szczerbiak and Gibson's minutes and give them to Sasha. Keep in mind, I am not a Pavlovic fan. But I just don't see how you can justify playing a guy a) whose feet are glued to the floor, or b) who is undersized and brings nothing to the table right now, over a guy who is 6'7, agile, and can also put the ball on the floor on the offensive end. Listen, I'm well aware of Sasha's deficiencies. I just think that with both Lewis and Turkoglu out on the floor, when the Cavs decide to change things up by going to the bench, the should do it by bringing out a big perimeter player who can bother Orlando's shooters a little bit.Waiting for Next Year:
The Cavs wasted an opportunity in game one of the Eastern Conference finals, and the news isn’t looking any brighter for the Cavs. LeBron James couldn’t get himself off the court as he was hobbled by what appeared to be leg cramps. He finally made his way off the court with a stream of blood running down his shin and the painful look of unfamiliar defeat on his face. It was a depressing finish to an awful second half for the Cavs.
Knowing this Cavalier squad, they will be chomping at the bit to get back into action on Friday night. There will be no excuses as the refereeing seemed to go hot and cold for both teams throughout the night. In the end the Magic played a better defensive game when it mattered most as the Cavs’ offense grew stagnant in the second half.
This was the first legit home loss for the Cavs in over three months. The last one came, as you recall, in early February in a 101-91 defeat against the Lakers. Brown benched everyone that mattered for a meaningless season finale at home vs. Philly, which the Sixers needed overtime to win.
Going by that token, this was also the Cavs' first legit loss in over a month. The last one? How about that 116-87 whitewashing in Orlando back in early April?
There is no way our Cavaliers could dominate their first two opponents so badly and lose this series. I don't care if we played the Washington Generals; we dominated the first two rounds so handily, I'm surprised they didn't give us a bye into the Finals. You're gonna tell me that this ragged bunch of Disney Darlings -- a team that struggled to beat a weak Philly team and barely beat that injury-riddled joke from Beantown -- is gonna come into our house and take us down? I don't think so.
Mo and Delonte have nowhere to go but up from here, and we know what they're capable of. I don't care who you are, you're not going to shoot the lights out all series long, especially playing against our smothering D. That's the downfall of teams that rely on three-point shooters. And for those still questioning LeBron's "clutch..." Remember the last time people complained about LeBron dishing rather than going to the hoop in the final seconds? I think that series worked out OK for us.
Lately, they aren't used to losing around here (let's not forget that 39-2 regular-season record), and the anger fans were feeling was palpable as the sellout crowd filed out of the building. The night began with the collective thought, "When exactly are the Lakers coming to town?" But that was replaced shortly before midnight by the simplistic, "How the heck did that happen?"
Adversity, welcome to Cleveland. Or perhaps we should say welcome back.
"[Adversity] is always good. Nobody said it was going to be easy," James said. "It's one game, and if we just look at it as one game, we'll be fine. If we think the world is coming down on our heads, we're going to lose pretty bad."
For now, we'll put this one down as a bad loss -- a bad loss to a team whose nutritionist was named either Chuck E. Cheese or Ronald McDonald.
Apologies, Cavs fans, if that makes the loss hurt even more. But there comes a time when every champion has to bounce back from something bad, and now the onus is on the Cavs -- if they truly are championship material -- to prove that's something they're capable of.
Thus, the Cavs must go back to the drawing board, and it's time for them to unearth the one tactic we didn't see Wednesday night: going small.
This may be the only way for the Cavs to survive. It's easier to double Howard with quicker, faster players, while James can slide up to the 4 and lock up Lewis. The Cavs haven't used that plan much this postseason, but it may be the only way they can guard the Magic in this series. Such a lineup might require them to play Sasha Pavlovic, because Wally Szczerbiak can't guard Pietrus, and that's a terrifying thought. But anything would be preferable to the way they've been chewed up during the teams' first four meetings.
I know the Cavs like the idea of allowing James to roam by having him defend Alston, but he's the only player on the team qualified to check Lewis. I'm a huge fan of Anderson Varejao's defensive expertise, but this is a bad matchup for him. He isn't used to defending the 3-point line and had trouble getting back to Lewis on the pick-and-pop plays on which Orlando devoured the Cavs during the second half. And if Varejao guards Howard instead, he may be able to flop himself into a few offensive-foul calls -- which is vital, because putting Howard on the bench is about the only way Cleveland can stop him.
On the other end, having LeBron post up against Pietrus seemed really effective. In fact, pretty much anything that involved having LeBron take a shot seemed to work really nicely. James was majestic with 49 points on 20-of-30 shooting, and in truth, the Cavs played well enough offensively to win on most nights. A 110.4 offensive efficiency mark against the league's top defense ain't too shabby.
Ultimately, it was pretty clear which team has been dealing with some intense playoff pressure for the last month and which team has mostly been smashing teams and resting. The Cavs totally fell into bad habits all over the place, both on offense and defense, and that is what should be most concerning not just the fact that Orlando had one of its patented great shooting nights.
• It has been said often, and correctly, that the Magic are a "pick your poison" team. Well, you can't take both doses of poison and survive. The Cavs decided to let Dwight Howard go in this game and pinch the other guys instead. It worked well for awhile, LeBron James totally flustered Rafer Alston guarding him, Delonte West did a nice job on Hedo Turkoglu with help from frequent double teams and Rashard Lewis was sucked into playing 1-on-1 basketball. Sure, Dwight Howard was making a mockery of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ben Wallace and they weren't fouling him and letting him get great post position and allowing points in the paint like they were the Golden State Warriors. But the Cavs were up 15 in doing so because that was it Howard or bust.
Then when things got tight the Cavs abandoned that plan and went back to denying Howard with double teams. That's when Turkoglu, who was flat out great in running high pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter, and Lewis started killing them. Do you know what you call that sort of violent switching the game plan? Did someone say panic? Well it may not have been panic but in comparing it to how they played all year long it looked like it.
The last good chance came when Delonte West -- who missed nine of his last 11 shots and five of his last six three-pointers -- missed a corner three-pointer in the last five seconds. He had a good look, much better than Rashard Lewis' three-pointer with just under 15 seconds left that beat the Cavs.
There is little defense for not running the red-hot Magic shooters off the arc in such a situation. Dwight Howard had fouled out. The Magic could not have liked their chances without him in overtime.
The last chance of any order of probability at all came after James won a jump ball with one second to play, tapping it to Mo Williams. James' erstwhile sidekick caught it in the air and shot it off the side of the rim. He missed 13 of his 19 shots in the game.
"I look at their team, and Dwight, Rashard and Hedo [Turkoglu] were terrific. I made six of 19 shots. I have to take pressure off LeBron,'" said Williams, seated beside James after both fought off cramps and reached the interview room.
Williams' desperate, shoveled 17-footer at the buzzer had a chance. "I should have made that one after missing ..."
Smiling, James interrupted with "All those easy ones?"
Just because the Cavs lost at home, it's not time to panic. Orlando won for one major reason: The Magic were 9-of-20 on 3-pointers, 7-of-13 in the second half. When they shoot like that -- and when the Cavs play All-LeBron, All The Time on offense, you get a game like this. But the Magic don't always shoot like this, and the Cavs should shoot better: especially as Williams and Delonte West were 10-of-31 from the field.
Both teams are good enough to win on the road. This is Orlando's fifth playoff victory away from home, giving the Magic a 5-3 road record, but they also are 4-2 at home, having lost to Boston and Philadelphia. Those were games where the Magic didn't hit from the outside. But a key for the Magic is tough defense The Cavs scored only 43 points in the second half -- 23 for James, 20 for everyone else.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said: "I have no idea what to do with LeBron, not a clue." James finished with 49 points, eight assists and six rebounds. The Cavs were outscored, 18-10, in the seven minutes when James sat in this game. The Cavs need to get more from their bench if they want to win this series. In their last three games -- two at Atlanta and Wednesday against Orlando -- the bench has produced only 20 points in 140 minutes, making 9-of-24 from the field. Joe Smith has 12 points, Wally Szczerbiak has six and Ben Wallace two. They need much more.
Look. This game sucked, don't get me wrong. But they have three more losses before they go home. Don't forget, this same Magic team lost the first game at home against the lowly Sixers in Round One.
It's not time to panic just yet. If they lose on Friday night... well, I wouldn't blame ya for freaking out (but even then, it wouldn't be over by a long shot).