After a season of excitement, Cavs depart in a night of embarrassment
by Terry Pluto/Plain Dealer Columnist
Saturday May 30, 2009, 11:30 PM
ORLANDO, Fla. -- For the Cavaliers, the season ended with a dunk in the face, a defensive collapse and a total breakdown of what made them the winningest team in the regular season.
Final score: Orlando 103, Cavaliers 90 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The real story is the game didn't feel that close, that somewhere along the line, the Cavs' will was broken, it's confidence slammed by Dwight Howard scoring inside or Rashard Lewis and the rest firing away while wide open from the 3-point line.
The word that comes to mind is embarrassing.
How could the Cavs be so passive, so uncertain in a Game 6 with their season on life support?
"We feel like we have to win this game at home," Rashard Lewis told the Orlando media. "We don't want to come and play in their arena where they feed off the crowd."
Before the game, James said: "I think a team is most dangerous when it's down to its last limb."
Not if the guys plan to just jump off, which the Cavs did for whatever reason -- be it pressure or a sense of the season slipping away.
Joshua Gunter/The Plain DealerLeBron James and the Cavaliers again had their season end amidst the celebration of their triumphant opponents. It was an especially painful end to a stunning season, says Terry Pluto.
Yes, Orlando is the better team, proving it by winning all five games here -- two in the regular season, three in the playoffs. Of course, had the Cavs capitalized on that 16-point lead in the opener, there would be a Game 7 in Cleveland coming up. They lost their home court advantage in the opener, which ended up a 107-106 loss.
But the Cavs had to be better than they were Saturday night.
They seemed uncertain on offense. James was not driving with authority, his teammates were reluctant to aggressively look for their shots. What exactly was the plan? Go inside? Set up James on the wing or at the top of the key, where he was so effective in Game 4? How about James in the low post?
"They jumped out to an early lead, Mo (Williams) got in foul trouble and because we got behind, we had to play quick and never could get control of the tempo," said Cavs coach Mike Brown.
The last thing you want to do to steal a road game is to be out-rebounded, 25-16, in the first half when the road team needs to set the tone. But the Cavs were out-hustled for what Mike Brown calls 50-50 balls. They seemed to disappear like Magic into the hands of Orlando players about 90 percent of the time.
At that point, the game was over.
"I never would have thought with the way this series has gone that we'd have been up 20 points in the fourth quarter," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy.
But when a team is soft defensively on the road, it happens. Orlando dominated the boards, 47-34, with a 15-4 scoring edge on second shots. Howard consistently set up near the basket and overpowered the Cavs big men.
OK, here are a few second-guesses:
1) What were the Cavs doing with James on defense? It was hard to know exactly who he was supposed to be covering.
2) Whatever happened to Joe Smith? It's hard to believe they couldn't have used another big man have helped underneath where Dwight Howard was terrorizing them.
3) What was the deal in the third quarters, where the Cavs were outscored in five of the six games? What happened to adjustments?
There's so much more.
Brown made his reputation as a defensive coach, but never could come up with a scheme to stall Orlando for long, much less shut them down. The Magic averaged 103 points in this series, shooting nearly 49 percent.
He stubbornly refused to maximize James on defense by assigning him to defend either Rashard Lewis or Hedu Turkoglu for most of the series. He was not able to find a way to either stop Dwight Howard (40 points, 14 rebounds) inside or Lewis and the other shooters outside.
Even James (who averaged 38.5 points per game) seemed a bit out of sorts, as he didn't drive to the basket with the same authority. After three quarters, with the Cavs trailing 86-70, James had attempted only six shots in the paint, making three.
James finished with his worst performance of the 14-game postseason, scoring 25 on 8-of-20 shooting.
As Orlando prepares to head to Los Angeles for the NBA Finals, the Cavs go to their summer vacation feeling empty and, hopefully, a little angry. This was a lousy way for what should have been a very good season to end.
First-Eye Akron Aeros Report
I got a chance to see the Aeros play the Erie Seawolves in Erie this afternoon, a 7-2 Seawolves win.
Jeanmar Gomez, who pitched a perfect game for Akron earlier in the season, started for the Aeros did not have his usual stuff getting lit up for 7 runs in only 4 innings. Gomez showed excellent breaking pitches and got 2 strikes on the majority of the batters. However, he could not put them away. His fastball clocked around 90 mpg, an area he can surely improve on in his young career.
Carlos Santana had two sac flies for the only Aero RBIs of the game, one with the bases loaded and 0 outs in the first inning.
Beau Mills and Nick Weglarz did not have very good days at the plate.
The Seawolves starter Marte really shut down the Akron bats in a 3 game Erie sweep of the series. The Aeros still lead the division by 3 games over Erie.