Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images
In a battle between two titans from the state of Florida, the Miami Heat were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 104-100. This was a game in which the Heat led from start to finish, but not without some theatrics in between. Miami led by as many as 23 points, in the fourth quarter no less, yet Orlando was able to go on a furious run thanks in large part to their three-point shooting. As a result, the Magic — improbably — had a chance to tie the game at 103 apiece with a three-pointer but Ryan Anderson was unable to capitalize on Mike Miller’s turnover and the Heat were able to dodge a bullet, holding on for the victory. For Miami, it was the LeBron James show as he erupted for 51 points (on 17-of-25 shooting from the field), 11 rebounds, and eight assists. For James, it was his first 50-point game of the season and he was five points short of his career-high. It’s worth mentioning, as well, that James started the game off by making his first 11 shots. Crazy. James said before stepping on the court that he never forgot the criticisms that were directed towards him by general manager Otis Smith during the offseason and needless to say, he made Orlando pay with a performance that could effectively be described in a few words — ruthless, methodical, dominant. James wasn’t alone, though. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh chipped in with 14 and 13 points, respectively. The Magic were led by a balanced attack as five players scored in double-figures. Jameer Nelson finished with 22 points, six rebounds, and six assists, paving the way for the comeback charge that surprised the Heat it seemed like. Dwight Howard had 17 points, 16 rebounds, but missed free-throws (10 of them, to be exact) doomed the Magic in the grand scheme of things. Jason Richardson had 18 points, while Hedo Turkoglu contributed with 13 points. Gilbert Arenas finished with 10 points. So what did Orlando learn from this loss?
Miami is almost unbeatable when James plays the way he did last night.
This isn’t the first time that the Magic have seen James play at a transcendent level, given that he pulled off these shenanigans in previous regular season games and also in the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference Finals when he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After witnessing that series, in which James averaged 38 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists in six games, it didn’t seem possible that he could topple those performances that he had against Orlando two years ago. James played at the apex of his abilities in that postseason matchup.
Yet, somehow, James outdid himself yesterday.
James started things off by scoring 23 points in the first quarter, with most of them coming on long two-point jumpers. Usually long two’s are an inefficient shot and shouldn’t be taken by a scorer like James but he can be a streaky shooter and unfortunately for the Magic, there was nothing they could do from watching drill jumpers like it was a walk in the park.
Once James made four consecutive jumpers in the period before Orlando took a timeout with 4:48 minutes left, it became clear that head coach Stan Van Gundy was going to be in for a long night having to deal with the reigning two-time MVP and best player in the NBA. The last thing that Van Gundy wants is for James to attack the basket and draw fouls on Howard, given that Orlando is lacking for big men with the absence of Brandon Bass. So Van Gundy made sure that the Magic continued to allow James to shoot from the perimeter. Dealing with a force like James, that’s the correct basketball strategy.
But again, because James was making every jumper he hoisted, Orlando was helpless defensively.
Every so often, Wade and Bosh would make their presence felt on offense but this was an outing that James played for blood. James didn’t want to just beat the Magic, he wanted to make them suffer. For three-and-a-half quarters, James was successful in his task.
After James fed Eddie House for a jumper with 7:39 left in the fourth quarter, Miami led by 23 points and the game appeared to be over. This was it. Orlando’s demise as an elite team and championship contender seemed imminent.
But then the Heat let their guard down and the Magic attacked.
[7:24] Clark makes layup (Nelson assist)
[6:15] Arenas makes free throw 2 of 2
[5:30] Richardson makes layup (Nelson assist)
[4:45] Nelson makes 20-foot two-point jumpshot (Arenas assist)
[4:07] Richardson makes 25-foot three-point jumpshot (Nelson assist)
[3:36] Anderson makes 24-foot three-point jumpshot (Arenas assist)
[3:12] Arenas makes 24-foot three-point jumpshot
[2:33] Anderson make 26-foot three-point jumpshot (Arenas assist)
[1:51] Richardson makes layup
In that six-minute span, Orlando was able to cut their deficit from 23 points to six and gave hope in the Amway Center. Suddenly, a crowd that was dead for most of the evening had something to cheer about. James did his best to short-circuit the enthusiasm by responding with a three-point shot at the top of the key.
However, the Magic didn’t give up.
Nelson did everything he could to will Orlando back into striking distance with Miami and surprisingly enough, he was successful in doing so. Inexplicably so, Orlando had a chance to tie the game at 103 because of Nelson’s spirit, but Anderson’s missed three was the final bullet in the gun chamber.
Six three-pointers in the quarter brought the Magic back from the dead, but they were unable to connect on lucky number seven. Needless to say, the Heat survived.
It says a lot that Orlando continued to poke away at Miami’s lead, but it also says a lot that they dug themselves such a huge hole in the first place. Granted, it took some torrid shooting for James to eclipse the 50-point mark but it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Magic had difficulty containing him, given that they’ve struggled with the perimeter defense in recent weeks.
James showed what the worst-case scenario is when Orlando is unable to contain a player of his caliber. The scary part is that Wade did little to impact the game, yet he has proven himself more than capable of giving the Magic a lot of grief.
Maybe next time it’s Wade that goes off while James takes a step back. That’s a proposition that is scary not only for Orlando, but the rest of the league.