Four Pair Swing Makes the Difference In Orlando

A Daily Babble Production

Given that LeBron James has never been confused for Ray Allen at the free throw line, I wouldn't call what happened in the fourth quarter in Orlando last night a full-fledged role reversal.  But it had that feeling.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers trailing by six points and a shade outside of four and a half minutes to play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, James drove to the basket and was fouled in the act of shooting.  Two shots.  Clang.  Clang.

On LeBron's second miss, Anderson Varejao committed a foul trying to take the rebound away from Dwight Howard.  With the Cavs in the penalty, the notoriously inaccurate (albeit not on this night) Howard headed to the line for two shots of his own.  I wouldn't describe them as "swish and swish," but the results were just as good.  Eight-point game.

Less than two and a half minutes later, after the Cavaliers had cut the deficit to four, the situation repeated itself in reverse order.

Howard drew a shooting foul from Zydrunas Ilgauskas.  Again, not swish and swish, but good and good.  Just as effective as swish and swish.

At the other end, the Cavs lucked out when the Magic tipped the rebound of a missed three-pointer out of bounds.  Shortly after the ensuing rebound, Bron drew a tick-tack foul from Mickael Pietrus coming around a screen outside the top of the circles.  Penalty situation, two shots.  Miss.  Miss.  Orlando ball, leading by six, less than two minutes to play.

There are a lot of reasons why the Magic left Amway Arena late Sunday night with a 99-89 win, and most of the ones on the Cleveland end had little to do with LeBron James.  But with the game's outcome hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter, each team's respective star contributed to an eight-point swing.  The 60 percent career free throw shooter made four biggies (and 14 of his 19 attempts for the night) right around the time the man who shot a career high 78 percent this season missed four of his own en route to an 18-for-24 performance.

As promised, the Cavaliers hacked Dwight Howard all night long, and he got the job done at the stripe.  In the meantime, the league's best player missed as many free throws in the fourth quarter alone as Howard did for the game.  In a series that has shown itself to be far more of a competition than some idiots (read: me) predicted, that can make all the difference.

Other quick-hitters from the game that put my initial Cavs-in-five prediction to bed once and for all:

  • I wish I had kept track of the number of fouls the Cavs committed outside the top of the circles as a result of poor timing on hedging when their bigs jumped out to play the high screen-and-roll, usually initiated by Hedo Turkoglu.  Of the nine fouls Turkoglu drew last night, only one came in the act of shooting.
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas looks awful.  He isn't moving well on defense and doesn't look comfortable shooting the ball.  Rough 3-for-10 night for him.
  • Mickael Pietrus continues to impress me.  His slashing earned him another seven trips to the line, and he made several effective defensive plays on LeBron, including a neat block once the game was no longer in doubt.  If only he would stop walking.
  • Stan Van Gundy is the anti-Popovich when it comes to the dopey between-quarters interview in nationally teleivsed games.  Whereas nearly every other coach in the league won't offer a syllable more than is necessary to get away from the microphone, SVG routinely goes above and beyond in offering us full paragraphs worth of a combination of raspy-voiced insight and goofiness.  Last night's highlight: "If LeBron dribbles, it's a foul.  He's going to the line for two shots."  Count me curious to see if this earns him a $15,000 bill from the league.
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