Eastern Conference Finals - Game 5 Recap
Cleveland 112, Orlando 102 - Magic lead series, 3-2
LeBron James, Mike Brown, and anyone else who was part of the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers knows what Daniel Gibson can do. Thursday night, with a season teetering on the brink of ultimate defeat, the one called "Boobie" didn't make a boo-boo, and that's why the best team in the NBA regular season will live for a Game 6 on Saturday in Orlando.
Gibson--whose 3-point shooting helped Cleveland to the 2007 Eastern Conference title--hadn't seen many minutes or shot opportunities in the first four games of the Eastern Conference finals. His diminutive body and defensive weaknesses made it hard for Gibson to find a place on the floor against an opponent that poses unique matchup problems for the Cavs. Orlando's length and strength at every position have given headaches to Gibson's teammates, Mo Williams and Delonte West; those two guards are wider and taller than Gibson, so one can readily imagine how poorly the 6-foot-2 shooting specialist would fare against a Mickael Pietrus or a Rafer Alston. Brown's decision to keep the University of Texas product on the pine for much of this series represented an exercise of sound logic, but with that having been said, the Cleveland staff probably should have used offense-for-defense substitutions to get Gibson more spot minutes, particularly on possessions when the Cavs needed a bucket.
After the top seed in the East pulled out a double-digit Game 5 victory, perhaps Mike Brown has found a good way to tweak his rotation.
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LeBron did his thing at Quicken Loans Arena. The NBA's reigning MVP played one of his more blended games of the playoffs, racking up a triple-double that featured not his 37 points or his 14 rebounds, but his 12 assists. Three of those dropped dimes landed in the scorebook when Gibson nailed 3-pointers in the final 13 minutes of regulation. When Orlando was making a push in the final minute of the third quarter, Gibson nailed a triple off a King James pass to pull Cleveland within a point at 79-78. When the Cavs were clinging to precarious one-point leads at two different stages of the fourth period, Gibson--off a feed from a driving LeBron, who played slash-and-kick basketball to near-perfection down the stretch--hit a long bomb to not only relieve his teammates, but send the Cleveland crowd into a frenzy. The first of these two trifectas came at the 10:22 mark of the final stanza, the second one coming at 4:24 of the period to give the home team a 97-93 advantage. LeBron would close the door on the Magic in the final four minutes by getting to the foul line and cashing in (James finished 15-for-19 at the charity stripe), but in order for LBJ to put Orlando away with powerful forays to the rim, Gibson had to loosen up Stan Van Gundy's defense first. There's no question who the star was on a lively night in Ohio, but there's just as little doubt about the identity of the X-factor who rose from obscurity to keep Cleveland's season very much intact.
As the series shifts to Florida for a supercharged sixth game, Daniel Gibson--along with Mo Williams (who shot better in Game 5, but still disappeared in the fourth quarter; Williams scored 24 points on 50 percent shooting, but hit only one field goal in the final period)--will need to find the range from long distance. If the Cavs can finally shoot on the road with the consistency they normally display at home, the people of Cleveland--stomach-punched so often in the city's supremely snake-bitten sports history--will be able to come back to the "Q" for a Game 7 on Monday night.
By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer
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