Saturday, May 30

Not over yet

Down 3-1 to the underdog Orlando Magic, the Cavaliers extended their season at least one more game with a 112-102 home win. There's still work to be done if Cleveland is to advance to the NBA Finals, but this stay of execution allows fans to breathe easy for another couple of days.

Naturally, the Cavs did it the hard way, following their familiar pattern in this series of building a giant lead in the first half at home, and then giving it all away. In Game 5, they did so to the tune of a 34-12 1st quarter lead that shrunk to 56-55 by half and was quickly 64-56 in the 3rd quarter. Way to keep up the intensity, guys.

The box score isn't particularly interesting from this game, though it reveals a few things. Orlando squeezed out wins in Games 1 and 4 mostly because they shot the ball better: 55% to 49% in Game 1 and 50% to 48% in Game 4. Orlando also had the marksman's edge in their narrow Game 2 loss and relatively comfortable Game 3 win. In Game 5, the Cavaliers finally turned the tables, hitting 50% of their shots to the Magic's 46%. Cleveland also enjoyed advantages from three-point land (9-18, 50% vs Orlando's 8-25, 25%) and the foul line (27-34, 79% to Orlando's 28-41, 68%). Simply put: Cleveland shot the ball a bit better and won this time. Much of the credit goes to Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson, whose three-point accuracies made a real difference in this one.

Everything else was pretty close: turnovers, rebounds, fouls, though Cleveland had better ball movement with 21 assists (12 from LeBron) to just 12 for the Magic. This is a good sign as the series shifts back to Orlando for Game 6, Saturday night at 8:30. I see three keys to the game for Cleveland, and these aren't generic TV announcer keys like "limit turnovers" and "get off to a fast start." Not that I don't recommend that the Cavaliers do both of those things, it's just that they're things that apply to every game and thus don't merit special recognition. Anyway, I have three specific recommendations:

1) Don't let the Magic shoot threes
I've never seen a team cut defecits more quickly than Orlando, and their prowess behind the arc has a lot to do with that. Priority #1 needs to be making absolutely sure that when Orlando does get their points, they do so in 2-point increments.

2) Foul Dwight Howard
Or one-point increments, as the case may be. We've kind of been doing this since Game 2, but the more the better. Use the big men's fouls - where has Joe Smith been? Ben Wallace was a team-low -19 last night and is a liability in late-and-close situations. Play him at the beginning of quarters for defensive purposes and play Beast at the end to give you more fouls to use on Dwight "What's 'goaltending'?" Howard, and take advantage of Smith's free-throw shooting ability when the Magic get in the penalty, like they do every quarter.

Howard's due for a really bad game at the line, and I hope it's Game 6. I can't believe he got away with that elbow he swung at Wally Szczerbiak; that thing connects, and we're seeing a whole lot more Marcin Gortat in Game 6. Howard is so dirty with those elbows. I can't stand this guy.

3) Use the 1st quarter offense in the other three quarters
For whatever reason, as games go on, the Cavs abandon the team offensive concepts that have helped them build these early leads. They panic when the Magic hit a few shots and get back into the game, and revert to the 2007 "stand around and watch LeBron" offense. Yes, getting LeBron the ball at the key was effective last night, as he made consistently good decisions and got scoring from teammates, but the Cavs overall are at their best when LeBron can move away from the ball. I'm not sure why they don't stick with this.

We can do this, but will we? Right now, using my best estimation skills, I believe Cleveland has a roughly 1 in 3 chance to win Game 6 in Orlando. Provided that happens, I then give the Cavs a 3 in 5 shot to win Game 7 and advance. Multiplying the two, I'm saying 1 in 5, or 20%, that LeBron and company hoist the Eastern Conference championship trophy. Not great odds, but they're something, and whether you agree with my figures or not, they're better than they were before Thursday.

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