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No Avoiding Praising Rafer This Time

A Daily Babble Production

In an Eastern Conference Finals series that has thus far made me look every bit the idiot I so often am, the latest installment provided a cherry on top: Rafer Alston submitting a huge performance in yet another victory for the Orlando Magic.

As our archives demonstrate, I have made no secret of my distaste for Alston's game, and I have berated him at just about every turn in this postseason.  While one night won't turn me into the president of his fan club, it seems the least I can do is omit the usual preface of laying out my case for not liking Alston's game.  Because the Magic's 116-114 overtime win in Tuesday's Game 4 came on a night that belonged to him as much as anyone.

From the outset, Alston took what the defense gave him.  With the Cavaliers sloughing off him early to pressure Dwight Howard and force the ball away from Orlando's more heralded perimeter players, Alston stepped up to knock down open looks in rhythm.  He canned a three from the top to open the scoring on the Orlando side, and he drained another trey four minutes later when Howard found him open in the left corner.  Six quick points on two shots set the tone for the later portion of Alston's night.

After quieting down for the remainder of the first half, Alston came alive in the third quarter.  Again, he didn't force bad shots, choosing instead to take what Cleveland's defense offered.  On consecutive possessions, he dribbled inside the arc for pull-up jumpers.  Two good looks, four points.  Twice more shortly thereafter, he spotted up on the left wing to receive passes from Hedo Turkoglu and Howard with room to shoot.  Two more shots, six more points.  Just like that, Alston reeled off the first 10 Magic points of the second half in a shade more than three and a half minutes.  He totaled 15 before the period finished, and the Magic went to the fourth quarter having cut an eight-point recess deficit to one.

Alston's hot outside shooting forced the Cavs to come out on him a bit more, and he attacked the rim twice for lay-ins in the second half.  The box score says he missed seven shots, but it's hard to remember them too well.  Alston didn't rush his attempts or force the ball into traffic when he went to the lane.  For the most part, every shot he took came off a quality look, and his selection merited little criticism regardless of each individual result.  If any shot earned a question, it was a second-half left-wing three-pointer that appeared well-contested by LeBron James.  And that rainbow kissed the backboard and fell in for three more points.

He hit his shots at one end, forced Mo Williams into another rough night (5-for-15 from the field) at the other and avoided silly mistakes throughout the contest.  Before the evening at Amway Arena ended, Rafer Alston amassed 26 points on 10-for-17 shooting, including 6-for-12 on threes, and his plus-18 mark made him the only player on either side better than plus-8. 

The Orlando Magic played excellent basketball when Rafer Alston was on the court last night.  That came thanks in no small part to Rafer Alston.

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