For the first time since 1995, the Magic are headed to the NBA Finals. So put on your Magic hat, put on the old Magic theme song, and party like it’s 1995. Forgive me if I’m getting a bit hyperbolic, but I know the Magic fans are with me. The NBA Finals never seemed possible. Too much went wrong this season. But this team grew up in the playoffs and evolved into an elite team that won’t quit, that won’t go down without a fight under any circumstance.
Not all championship teams are that way at the beginning of the season. It takes some tough times (struggling against Philadelphia in round one). It takes adversity (Jameer Nelson’s injury). It takes inner-conflict (Dwight Howard’s touches). It takes growth (Courtney Lee’s emergence). It takes seemingly insurmountable odds (down 3-2 to Boston). It takes adjustments (Rafer Alston). It takes unity. It takes teamwork.
Now, the Magic are right there. The ultimate dream is no longer a dream. It’s now a goal. Led by a career performance from Dwight Howard, the Magic put LeBron James out of his misery by defeating the Cavaliers 103-90. The Magic jumped out to an early double-digit lead, and essentially put the Cavs away with a second-quarter outburst. Orlando led by 18 at halftime and — except for a brief lapse at the beginning of the third quarter — never let the Cavs make a game of it.
Dwight Howard had his way with Cleveland’s big men, scoring 40 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Jump hooks, dunks, lay-ins, free throws — Howard scored in all varieties tonight (he even attempted a 3-pointer at the end of the game, but missed). He finished 14-of-21 from the field and 12-of-16 from the free-throw line.
LeBron James played his worst game of the playoffs and seemed generally disinterested throughout the contest, but whether the Magic were responsible or not is unclear. He posted a 25-7-7, but that has to be the worst 25-7-7 I’ve ever seen. James lacked the fire we’ve seen in previous contests, and didn’t seem up to the task of taking over the game.
The Magic had adjustments planned for James, but never got around to utilizing them. The team had practiced a double-team scheme that Van Gundy planned to implement in the fourth quarter, but he never went to it with the game out of hand.
“It’s sort of funny because after what he did to us last game, we spent over half our practice this morning on schemes for isolations,” Van Gundy said. “I’m a little disappointed because you guys could’ve seen what a genius I was. And instead of our players getting all the credit, I could’ve gotten it.”
In case you’re new to the Magic, Van Gundy was joking. Everyone on the Magic played well, and that’s about as truthful as it can get.
Mickael Pietrus once again was a force off the bench, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 14 points. Rashard Lewis was steady with 18 points, and Hedo Turkoglu made up for a poor shooting performance with five assists and seven rebounds. The focus now shifts to the almighty Los Angeles Lakers, which will be dissected, put back together and dissected again throughout the next few days. For now, enjoy tonight’s win.
To see my story in today's Daily Dime, click here.