Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Eastern Conference Finals Game 4

It seemed like, as it had all season, that LeBron was destined to come out on top. A phantom foul on Mickael Pietrus as he was guarding LeBron was followed by a no-call on Anderson Varejao as he kept Dwight Howard from the basket at the end of regulation Tuesday, but Howard responded by creating his own fate. He came out and made three dunks to begin overtime, scored 10 of his team-high 27 points in the extra period as Orlando took a 3-1 series lead on Cleveland with a 116-114 victory. Howard's block of LeBron's driving shot with 16 seconds to go was symbolic not just of the moment but the entire series. The Magic's superstar has been maligned during the playoffs for his disappearances at key moments and his complaints about not seeing enough shots, but came through in an overtime that put Orlando a game away from the Finals. Howard's frustrations have been well-documented, and continued as he was called for a technical foul in the third quarter that puts him one technical away from an automatic suspension. He shook it off in overtime, and now it is LeBron who has to wonder what more he has to do. He scored more than 40 points for the third time in the series, pouring in 41, and on all three occasions his team has lost. His teammates showed signs of breaking out of their collective slump, led by Mo Williams, who had 18 points through three quarters. Yet Williams did not score in the final 16 minutes of the game, and Delonte West, the team's third-leading scorer with 17, put up only four of those points in the fourth quarter. The bench broke its string of four straight single-digit scoring performances, but was still outscored 26-14. Pietrus outdid the Cleveland bench all by himself with 17 points, all while drawing the unenviable assignment of guarding LeBron. The five three-pointers Pietrus hit were impressive, but no one had a touch quite as fine as Rafer Alston did, hitting on six of 12 attempts from behind the arc for 26 points, a career playoff high. Alston's unexpected contributions exascerbated Cleveland's troubles on defense. The Magic shot 50 percent from the floor and 17-for-38 on three-point attempts while the Cavs went just 6-for-22 behind the arc. The defense and all-around contributions that made the Cavs so tough all year have deserted them at the worst time. They must perform a spectacular turnaround now to claim a spot in the Finals that seemed just a week ago to have already been theirs.

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