Cavalier Coach Mike Brown did something pretty slick in the second quarter: Just when Stan Van Gundy was resting the Magic regulars, Brown inserted LeBron James. And the Cavaliers ripped off an 11-0 run. It was the only stretch of the game when Cleveland clearly outclassed Orlando. Hedo Turkoglu's agent (he'll be a free agent soon!) would like to point out that the run started when Turkoglu was benched, and ended only when he returned. That's a big part of the reason why, despite shooting 1-11 from the floor with three turnovers, Turkoglu ended the game an impressive +20, to go with his 11-12 from the free throw line, 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
I don't know who it was at the Magic that made the final call on selecting Courtney Lee with last summer's 22nd pick, but they have to be feeling pretty good now. This rookie is a key factor in the Eastern Conference Finals. On the season he's making better than 40% of his 3-pointers, he has speed like Rip Hamilton, and he's one of a tiny handful of players to be go-to defenders in their first season of NBA action. And most importantly, he almost never turns the ball over. With no give-aways, and good defense, there's almost do downside to keeping Lee on the floor.
TrueHoop reader John sent me an e-mail in December saying that he thought the Magic had the best chance of anyone to defeat the Cavaliers, because Mickael Pietrus does a better job than anyone else guarding LeBron James. There's obviously a lot more to the story of Orlando's success than Pietrus' defense, but John certainly deserves a tip of the cap for noticing an important thing early.
The referees were extremely evident. This series has been, generally, among the most enjoyable to watch in NBA history. But 86 free throw attempts in Game 3 (four more than in the first two games combined) went a long way to bringing down the fun factor. The Magic shot a whopping 51 times from the stripe, which would seem to indicate they got the better referee treatment. But the Magic's star, Dwight Howard, had six fouls, none of which were very convincing. I'd like to see HD slow motion replay of all six back-to-back. He fouled out of the game on a tremendously clean block. Meanwhile (I invite anyone who has the urge to assemble video to check me on this) LeBron James appeared to have significantly more leeway.
The Cavaliers' backup big man Joe Smith had OK box score numbers ( four points, four rebounds, two steals and a block in 19 minutes), but he led the team in +/-, which I don't think was entirely a coincidence. He was active and helpful for long stretches. Early in the second half, his entry into the game signaled the end of a big Orlando run, and more than a few times his defensive activity inspired Cleveland stops. Not to tweak the Celtics more than has already been done, but it's clearer than ever that the "Mid-Season Free Agent Signing Joe Smith vs. Mikki Moore Hindsight is 20/20" Award goes to the Cavaliers.
Look at LeBron James' shot chart for this game. That's two of fifteen from long range. Anyone else get the feeling that Friday's big long game-winner gave James irrational confidence in long bombs? If I were Orlando, I wouldn't expect James to fire away so much in Game 4 -- especially when he proved down the stretch that he is capable of getting to the hole and completing and-ones over the Defensive Player of the Year.