May 21, 2009
Dwight Howard was strong enough to take down the backboard. And Rashard Lewis did enough to help take down the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers.
Howard scored 30 points and carried his teammates early, then Rashard Lewis hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 14.7 seconds left to send the Orlando Magic to a 107-106 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. The win gives the Magic a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Game 2 is Friday night in Cleveland.
It was the Cavaliers' third home defeat this season, and came against a Magic team that has been criticized for showing a lack of mental toughness during the playoffs.
That has changed over the past 72 hours, when Orlando won in Boston in Game 7 to win its semifinal series, then followed it up with a stunning victory over a Cavaliers team that sailed through their first two postseason series.
"Everybody is always counting us out as a team," said Howard, who scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. "We believe if we play Magic basketball for 48 minutes, we can beat anybody."
Howard was the only offensive weapon in the first half, scoring 18 of his team's 48 points. He kept the Magic in the game long enough for the shooters to get going.
"I felt my team wasn't playing as well as we needed to," Howard said. "I tried to be aggressive attacking the basket and getting easy points. When we're down, somebody has to step up."
The Magic were feeling really low at the half after Mo Williams' 67-foot heave at the buzzer went in to give Cleveland a 63-48 lead at the break.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy was upset with his team's lackadaisical half, when his players stood by and watched LeBron James drive through the lane for uncontested dunks.
"(Van Gundy) told us at halftime that it looked like we were all witnesses," Howard said, alluding to James' other slogan. "It really motivated us."
Orlando connected on 7 of 13 3-pointers in the second half, the defense tightened up and the Magic outscored the Cavaliers' bench 25-5.
Mickael Pietrus came off the bench to score 13 points for Orlando, including a pair of 3-pointers. Hedo Turkoglu had 15 points and 14 assists and Lewis had 22 points — including the biggest shot of the night.
After Howard fouled out, Orlando was coming out of a timeout trailing 106-104. The ball went to Lewis, who hit the 3-pointer from the corner to topple the Eastern Conference's top seed on its home floor.
"There was no big genius thing there," Van Gundy said. "Rashard just made a hell of a shot and we came up with a stop on the last possession."
The Magic struggled with James, who finished with 49 points, six rebounds and eight assists. But the Cavs didn't get a point from a bench player in the second half.
"They hit us first. I felt like we only played one half tonight and that was the second half," Lewis said. "We took a step back and were timid in the first half. I thought we played tremendous defense in the second half."
Play was stopped for eight minutes early in the first quarter when Howard's dunk loosened the 24-second shot clock from the backboard.
"I've done that before, a couple times," Howard said. "I didn't even know what happened. I thought it was a regular dunk until I turned around. I saw the replay. It was a fun thing to watch."
Howard was harassed by James, who guarded Magic point guard Rafer Alston much of the night so he could sneak over and help double-team Howard. James caught Howard for three blocks in the game, frustrating Orlando's star, who felt he was fouled each time.
Howard was whistled for a technical after complaining about a James block in the third quarter.
Howard proved he could handle the physical play.
"When we run, defend and rebound, we win a lot of games," Howard said. "If we want to win this series, that's what we have to do every night."