Sunday, May 31, 2009
Eastern Conference Finals Game 6
The weight LeBron took upon his shoulders to carry his team past Orlando into the NBA Finals finally became too great to bear. LeBron went scoreless in the second quarter and was held to 25 points, matching his lowest output of the postseason, as the Magic ousted Cleveland with a 103-90 victory Saturday to win the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2. It was Dwight Howard in the dominant role typically played by LeBron, as Howard scored a playoff career high 40 points to go with 14 points. Howard was the focal point of the Magic offense two nights after taking just 10 shots in Game 5. Saturday he took 21 shots and made 14 of them, and went 12-for-16 at the line as the Cavs elected not to double-team so as to cover Orlando's potent three-point shooters. The strategy failed to work on Howard or the gunners, as Mickael Pietrus went 4-for-7 from behind the arc and Rafer Alston and Rashard Lewis both checked in with 3-for-7 performances from three-point range. The Magic were 12-for-29 on treys, while the Cavs had their own success, going 9-for-20. Mo Williams was 3-for-4 from long distance, but all of his production came in the second half after he had just three points going into the break. Delonte West had two three-pointers on a 22-point night when he was the major weapon other than LeBron, who hit a pair of three-pointers himself. The stat line of 25 points, seven assists and seven rebounds is quite a night for just about anyone, but for LeBron it was a significant dropoff after scoring at least 35 points in each of the first five games of the series. His teammates, and Williams in particular, failed to deliver the support that would have allowed him to be anything less than spectacular every night. Williams was acquired in the offseason to provide a steady ballhandler and an additional scoring threat, but he didn't have a single game in the series with more than five assists and only once delivered more than 20 points. Williams had 17 points and five assists Saturday, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas ended his season with a real thud, scoring just two points on 1-for-5 shooting while getting destroyed by Howard on the other end. Igauskas has been one of the best offensive centers in the league for many years in Cleveland, but looked all of his 33 years against Howard, who is a decade younger. Ilgauskas, a free agent this summer, may be let go as the Cavs face a crucial summer for their franchise. They have just one more year with LeBron before his contract is up in 2010, and it may be their last chance at what has seemed like a sure championship. Anderson Varejao, Joe Smith and Wally Szczerbiak are all free agents as well, and general manager Danny Ferry faces some hard decisions. The Magic seem much more well-positioned for the future, but they don't have to worry about next year just yet. The mercurial, quirky team reliant on outside shooting and their physical specimen of a center will see if they can continue to trample on the championship plans of another favored team when they face the Lakers in the Finals. We'll have a full Finals preview in advance of Game 1 on Thursday.