The tone was set early in the game. Dwight Howard erased two shots and was called for goaltending and gifted Cleveland four points. The message was clear though.
Come into the paint at your own risk.
Howard nearly had his 28th consecutive double double in the first half and was more or less unstoppable in the paint. He missed two field goals and two free throws on his way to 28 points and 18 rebounds. The paint was his domain and the Cavaliers did not want to go in there for three quarters as the Magic withstood the Cavaliers' desparate comeback for a 97-86 win.
Stan Van Gundy was mostly focused on Cleveland's crazy comeback in the fourth quarter that turned a comfortable 22-point lead into a nine-point lead late in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers got a big support from Daniel Gibson draining shots in succession as he scored 16 points and hit 7 of 11 from the floor. Manny Harris and Christian Eyenga came alive as the Magic seemed ready and willing to coast to the finish after three quarters of work.
Hedo Turkoglu hit a couple of threes to close the game out and ensure the Cavaliers did not make it any closer. Cleveland won the fourth quarter 28-17, making the game far more interesting than it should have been.
Really the Magic had this game in the bag from start to finish.
Howard and Brandon Bass were the catalysts inside without doubt. Howard scored 28 points on 9-for-11 shooting and 10-for-12 shooting from the free throw line, a 90 percent true shooting percentage. Bass 22 points on 9-for-10 shooting, but struggled from the line with four makes in eight attempts. Those two just had their way inside against JJ Hickson, Ryan Hollins and Samardo Samuels. The two players did not miss any of their field goal attempts until the fourth quarter.
This game was not a matter of not getting the ball inside at all. Orlando gave Cleveland a healthy diet of Howard and Bass was usually open off pick and rolls or ball rotation as Cleveland tried desperately to keep Howard from having the ball. Howard had a 21.8 percent usage rate according to the Advanced Stats Calculator and Bass had an 18.6 percent usage rate. Howard's number is a bit low, but Bass' number is right on where he probably should be.
Their play together was enough to help Orlando build a pretty sizeable lead.
Ryan Anderson added a nice boost with 11 points, mostly in the first half. And Jason Richardson added 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Hedo Turkoglu added eight points and nine assists.
As those numbers may suggest things were not always peachy offensively. And this is likely where the more immediate focus is going to be placed coming out of this game.
As Stan Van Gundy said after the game, there is nothing to take out of this game aside from the win.
Orlando built its lead and then coasted through the final 15 minutes or so. The Magic got sloppy and lazy in the fourth quarter and seemed pretty uninterested in finishing the game. Hard to blame them because of how easily things were coming earlier in the game. The Cavaliers definitely upped their intensity and the Magic saw no reason to match, doing just enough to keep things from getting interested.
The Cavaliers were simply unable to hit mid-range jumpers. And for most of the game that is what they were settling for. Howard did a good job keeping the Cavaliers out of the paint or maybe they just did not want to challenge him with the way he was playing defensively. Cleveland got its courage in the fourth quarter proving every NBA team has a run.
The Magic, again, struggled with turnovers. They committed 20 of them. There were a lot before the fourth quarter started too. This is a persistent problem that is not going away even with a relatively focused effort.
Van Gundy seemed especially peeved with the continued turnover problems and the inconsistent effort. Orlando is still searching for 48 minutes.
Against Cleveland you are not going to need it. So the win was enough.