Same uniforms, different teams. Led by some outstanding offense from LeBron James and JJ Hickson, the Cleveland Cavaliers silenced the Orlando Magic, ending their stretch toward the All-Star break on an all-time high.
The first quarter was a grind, with plenty of fouls and lots of LeBron finding an open JJ Hickson for the jam. TNT commentators said that he's been taking lessons from Shaq, and it's showing, because he's developed into a dominating presence close to the basket. Unfortunately, the warning signs were already in place that Shaq wasn't going to dominate Howard in this game.
The second quarter featured the typical action that makes me loathe the Magic more than any other team: Magic players catching the ball and instantly shooting a 3...and it goes in for no reason. It didn't help that we weren't playing our best perimeter defense. Sometimes we got a hand in the face of Magic shooter...most of the time we didn't.
The third quarter was what I feared the most. The Magic would always seem to rattle us in the third quarter, and tonight our defense started the second half extremely rusty. Orlando led by 7 at one point...but the Cavs came back down the stretch and eventually outscored the Magic 21 to 20. It was at that point that I was sure we would win this game, that this year is different.
The fourth quarter was again shaky. Orlando took the lead midway through the quarter. But then, the Cavs' trademark defense began to get the best of Orlando. Shaq and LeBron went to work and got back the lead. And then...
Delonte West hit a 3 pointer, giving the Cavs a 7 point lead with 3:23 to go. And that? Was the "I'M BACK!" shot for D West.
It was over by then. Oh, it wasn't officially over, but you knew it was over. That 3 pointer broke the backs of the Magic, and in less than 2 minutes, the Cavs scored 9 points, putting the Cavs up by 14 with 1:10 to go.
Go home a winner.
Rather than list the top Cavs performances like I normally do, I'm going to list the keys to our victory:
JJ Hickson: With him on the floor, the Magic had another athletic, fast, young forward to contend with. They just didn't know it. When they double teamed LeBron, he passed to Hickson for a layup, alley-oop, or slam dunk. Hickson finished with 20 points on 9-14 shooting. He was a great second option as a scorer, and that is needed when we play the Magic.
The Cleveland bench: Anderson Varejao was his usual energetic self, amassing 16 points. Delonte West had a great game coming back from injury with 8 points, including two 3 pointers. And our bench still could have played better. Moon took only one shot, a 3 pointer in the 4th, Jawad was unusually bad tonight, and Ilguaskas didn't play very good defense. Had 6 points though.
The Magic roleplayers: Thank goodness the Magic roster is different from what it was last year. Instead of having to deal with feared players like Courtney Lee, Turkey Glue, and Rafer Alston, we were now playing against an absolute joke in Jameer Nelson (4-14, 1-5 3 PM-A, -11). He clearly hasn't been himself since before his injury. But the most laughable performance tonight came from Vince Carter. Vinsanity is the dumbest word I've ever heard of, because it doesn't exist. Carter can't shoot. He missed all his three pointers and finished 5-16 and -21, the worst of either team. We are so lucky the Magic did what they did to acquire him.
Stan Van Gundy: He isn't blameless in the Magic loss. Why didn't he play Jason Williams more? "White Chocolate" killed us in the second quarter with three straight long range shots. He had 10 points in just 8 minutes. But he only played 8 minutes for the rest of the game.
Anyway, enough about the Magic. We're off for a week. Time to Par Tay!