For a fleeting moment, it seemed like Lebron James’ buzzer-beater in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals was going to alter (or restore, depending on how you view it) the future of basketball.
Cleveland would not be heading to Orlando, inexplicable losers of two straight in a building they had gone 43-2 — and essentially 43-1 — in up until this series, their dreams all but doomed. The mammoth “WE ARE ALL WITNESSES” billboard in downtown Cleveland was not going to be suddenly interpreted as a cruel confirmation of another heart-wrenching letdown in the City that Rocks. A 23-point lead, along with the Cavs season, would not evaporate into the air over Lake Erie.
Those things were not meant to be, because in case anyone forgot, the Chosen One was wearing one of the white jerseys with red trim. And He would not allow destiny to be derailed.
It took one ridiculous, high-arcing jay for Lebron to steal back a stolen game. With it, the delicate notion of momentum returned to the Cavaliers side.
Yet less than 48 hours later, the Magic came out in Game 3 and wiped away every bit of that momentum Cleveland had amassed.
And you had to think: Maybe Lebron, who’s averaging nearly 42 points in the series, just isn’t enough.
Is there really any denying that three of the best four players in this tilt are Orlando’s to claim?
Dwight Howard poses huge matchup problems for Cleveland’s either underprepared (Anderson Varejao), overly soft (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) or undersized (Ben Wallace) front line.
Rashard Lewis is a nightmare cover for big men (who he can make follow him outside) or small forwards (who he can post up).
Hedo Turkoglu is 6-10 and does a little of everything, from running point to rebounding to dropping daggers.
On the Cavs, only Mo Williams even belongs in the discussion with Orlando’s top three. And he’s shooting just 32 percent so far in the series.
Add it all up, and it’s fairly easy to understand how close Cleveland is to facing an insurmountable 0-3 deficit.
However, if there is a silver lining to all this, it’s that 1) the league clearly prefers a Lebron-Kobe Finals, and the refs have reflected this preference, and 2) Stan Van Gundy has professed out loud that he has no clue what to do about James, which should be a grave concern for Magic faithful going forward.
More on that point: On three occasions these playoffs Orlando has given up buzzer-beaters — to Andre Iguodala vs. Philadelphia; to Glen Davis vs. the Celtics; and to Lebron. After the two most recent walk-off shots Van Gundy shouldered the blame.
The funny thing is that against Boston, Coach Stan drew up the perfect play — doubling Paul Pierce and impeding his passing lane to Ray Allen — but Pierce had the confidence in Davis to defer to him, and Big Baby had the confidence to knock down the shot. That was championship swagger pure and simple, something that can’t be defensed.
Moving forward to the Lebron shot, for some reason Van Gundy opted not to double team James, and got burned for it. He’s taken the blame for both mishaps, but only really deserved it for the most recent one. Either that Celtics play continues to haunt him or he’s begun to second-guess himself, or a combination of both.
No matter what, there’s little doubt that Van Gundy’s coaching gaffe is the most tangible explanation for Orlando not being up 3-0 in the series, and he knows it. You can bet his team is aware of it as well, and will look to take decisive control of the conference finals with a win in Game 4.
For Cleveland to get back on track and avoid slipping into an imposing 3-1 hole, someone not named Lebron is going to have to step up. We’ve all seen how performances of 49, 35 and 41 from James have netted barely one win for the Cavs.
His supporting cast must make some noise in Game 4, and if it does and Cleveland ties the series at two, all those witnesses will flock back to Quicken Loans Arena for Game 5, believers once again.
If not, Orlando will be poised to prove that Lebron’s magic at the end of Game 2 registered as nothing more than a cheap parlor trick.