By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted May 21 2009 1:56AM
CLEVELAND -- Before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron James insisted that his team had been tested in the first two rounds of the Playoffs.
He was wrong.
The Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks gave the Cavs no resistance as Cleveland rolled to eight straight double-digit wins to start the postseason. The Orlando Magic, however, are on another level.
And they proved it, coming back from as many as 16 points to pull out a 107-106 victory and take a 1-0 lead in the series. (Note: Watch a replay of Game 1 Thursday at noon ET on NBA TV).
After nine postseason games, the Cavaliers are finally part of the 2009 Playoffs.
"That was one hell of a game by both teams," Cavs coach Mike Brown said afterward. "Down the stretch, each team, both teams made plays. The guys stepped up and made big plays."
The Magic just made one more big play than the Cavs did.
As it did in the regular season, the Orlando offense gave Cleveland's defense plenty of trouble. It started with Dwight Howard, who had great position on the Cavs' bigs all night and did work on both blocks, scoring 30 points on 14-of-20 shooting before fouling out in the final minute.
It ended with Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu working the pick-and-roll to perfection and scoring the Magic's final 17 points, including Lewis' game-winning 3-pointer from the right wing with 14.7 seconds to go.
On the other end, James had another ultra-MVP performance, scoring 49 points on 20-of-30 from the field. As always, he was aggressive going to the basket, but also drained jumpers all night, looking like more of a shooter than Ray Allen did against the Magic in the previous round.
"The one thing that I don't leave this game with is any idea whatsoever of what to do with him," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy admitted afterward. "As a coach, I don't have a clue."
The only thing that slowed James was a bout of leg cramps in the fourth quarter that had him limping and taking extra timeouts to get some rest.
But as he has been doing throughout the Playoffs, James made all the right plays, taking the shot when it was presented and making the pass when one of his teammates had a better look at the basket.
It just wasn't enough.
After the game, Cavs guard Mo Williams fell on his sword, taking the blame for the loss.
"The biggest key to the game was myself," Williams said. "I have to take pressure off of [James]."
Williams pointed out how well James, Howard, Lewis and Turkoglu played and how he still got 19 shots despite James' dominance. He missed 13 of them, including a desperation attempt off one leg from the top of the key that would have won the game at the buzzer.
James and other members of the Cavs have been through tough games in the Playoffs before. But Williams saw his first real postseason adversity on Wednesday. And he didn't play like an All-Star.
But the Cavs still scored 106 points, shooting 49 percent from the field and turning the ball over just eight times. The problem wasn't the offense. It was on the other end of the floor.
As unstoppable as James has been through the first nine games of the postseason, it has been the Cleveland defense that has been the No. 1 reason for their success. Through the first two series, the Cavs hadn't allowed more than 85 points in a game. On Wednesday, the Magic had 85 with more than 10 minutes to go in the fourth, taking their first lead, 85-84, on an Anthony Johnson trey.
"For a team to shoot 55 percent on our court in the game is unacceptable for all of us," James said. "We know that's not how we play basketball. That's not how we're going to win. We should have lost."
It wasn't an issue of effort, though. The Cavs played with energy. They just didn't have an answer for stopping the Orlando offense.
During the course of the game, the Magic adjusted to the way the Cavs were doubling Turkoglu on the screen-and-roll by screening with Lewis, who found open spots on the baseline, where he found his rhythm before hitting the game-winner. Lewis made just two of his five shots before halftime, but shot 7-for-8 in the second half.
Before the game, Van Gundy was asked what he had seen from his team through the first two rounds.
"We're a resilient team, we'll bounce back from tough losses, bad games, from whatever controversy and whatever is going on," he said. "They're a team that can get themselves together and that's a great characteristic to have."
His players made him an honest man Wednesday. They withstood an 18-point lead. They withstood a three-quarter heave from Mo Williams to end the first half. They withstood a Quicken Loans Arena crowd that was in a frenzy as the Cavs looked dominant at times. And they withstood a brilliant performance from James.
Now, it's time for the Cavs to make an adjustment or two, and there's no guarantee that it will be enough to stop an Orlando offense that has so many weapons. It may be a case where Williams and Delonte West, who also missed a shot to win the game, have to shoot better than 10-for-32 from the field.
The Cavs have lost at home for just the third time in 46 games, and have lost home-court advantage in this series in the process. They're swagger has taken a hit. And now, we'll see if they're as resilient as the Magic have been.
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