Eastern Conference Finals - Game 1 Recap
Orlando 107, Cleveland 106 - Magic lead series, 1-0
LeBron James is always figuring out ways to do the improbable every time he steps on a basketball court. Wednesday night in Cleveland, the NBA's reigning superstar might have pulled off the most amazing act of all: He scored 49 points and made his team look bad in the process.
All great basketball players have faced the puzzling, paradoxical moment when a high-scoring game--a statistical showpiece--represents a negative development for the team. Michael Jordan faced this problem in his earlier years with the Chicago Bulls. Kobe Bryant endured such exquisite agony in his first years with the Lakers. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, King James found out that his unwillingness to share the ball with his subjects--errr, uhhh, teammates--could prevent the Cleveland Cavaliers from ascending to the throne and wearing the crown of ultimate victory.
The scene inside Quicken Loans Arena was as undeniable as it was shocking: Usually, the sight of LeBron posting 49 points--as he did in this contest--would translate to an easy conquest for the Cavs, who stepped on court with a perfect playoff record. After eight wins in as many games--some of them due to 40-point explosions by the league MVP--the crew from Cleveland didn't appear to be vulnerable against the Orlando Magic. Neither did they seem to be susceptible to a breakdown in fundamentals.
> Pro Basketball Fans and partner sites feature discount NBA merchandise, Basketball Fathead wall stickers & more for fans of all ages.
Yet, after rolling to a 63-48 halftime lead on the strength of blended team basketball, the Cavs dragged through the second half and were lulled to sleep by their own superman. As LeBron held onto the ball and bled the shot clock on nearly every Cleveland possession, the rest of the Cavs stood around and watched. Awesome players are fun to watch, and anyone with LBJ's immense gifts should receive a majority of touches and shot opportunities. With that said, a meal-ticket scorer must always keep his role players involved and attentive. The moment a team turns into one superstar and four bystanders, the game shifts from a 5-on-5 competition to a 1-on-5 mismatch. This is what happened in the third and fourth quarters of the Magic-Cavs lid-lifter: LeBron--even when scoring--took his teammates out of the flow at the offensive end. The stagnant nature of Cleveland's halfcourt sets translated to the defensive end, where Mike Brown's bunch was caught flat-footed against Orlando's crisp passing, excellent floor spacing, and ice-veins 3-point shooting from an array of accurate bombers. The Magic love to shoot the long ball, and after making just two threes in the first half, Stan Van Gundy's guys knocked down seven 3-pointers in the second half, the biggest one coming when Rashard Lewis nailed a game-winning triple over a slow-reacting Anderson Varejao with 14.7 seconds left in regulation. When Cleveland guards Delonte West and Mo Williams missed jumpers in the final 10 seconds, the underdogs from Disney's Magic Kingdom had stolen home court from the King of Cleveland. LeBron was left to wonder why a 15-point halftime bulge turned into a shocking upset loss. It should dawn upon the best player in basketball--you don't get to be a king without being smart, after all--that if he had kept his teammates involved midway through the second half, the Cavs would have displayed more energy and tenacity in all aspects of competition.
As it stands, the Magic have swiped the first game and have injected fresh life into the series, not to mention the NBA postseason as a whole. One round after the L.A. Lakers overcame a Game 1 home loss to push past Houston, the other top seed in the playoffs must do the same thing against an Orlando team that has to be overflowing with confidence. Game 2 is Friday in Cleveland, where the homestanding Cavs have suddenly been thrust into a must-win situation. Expect King James to delegate more authority to his teammates. If he doesn't, Orlando will be happy to see LeBron post 49 more points... and hop on a plane to north Florida with a 0-2 series deficit.
By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer
> Read all of the pro basketball articles online from ProBasketball-fans.com.