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Eight Thoughts About Magic vs. Cavaliers Game 4

10/20/2009

A huge night for the Magic, after a pulse-pounding Game 4 win to go up 3-1. The Magic can sniff the Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers -- everybody's favorite heading into the playoffs -- are on the ropes. 

To many, the game was marred by the referees. But watching the video, the referees got the big crunch time calls right, even though in real time many such calls looked bad. The exception? A travel call that went against the Magic. Some thoughts:

  • Possibly my favorite moment of the game came in overtime, when Rafer Alston -- playing vastly more down the stretch than usual -- used a big bucket of hustle and grit to turn a LeBron James would-be open-court assist into a key Magic possession. When people say "you have to want it more" this is the kind of thing they are talking about.

  • Non-LeBron James Cavaliers (Mo Williams, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Daniel Gibson) made two of 12 from downtown. They're excellent shooters. Just one more of those shots goes in ... Meanwhile, the Magic made 17 of their 38 3s.

  • In the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, Hedo Turkoglu was called for a travel. Slow motion instant replay reveals Turkoglu gathered his dribble as he stepped onto his left foot. He then stepped onto his right foot, launched, and shot. Not a travel. (Well it could be, by the rulebook, depending exactly when he gathered the ball, but not the way NBA referees are instructed to call it, and you see it dozens of times a game.)

  • The call that appeared the weakest was at the end of regulation. His team down two, James drove the lane, fell down, and Mickael Pietrus was called for a foul. It seemed like the classic case of a superstar bailout call, and didn't we all get a little sick at the thought that such a big game would be decided in such a manner. Looking at the replay, though, it's undeniable that James fell because Pietrus's foot tangled with James'. It might not get called that way every time, but it was a trip.

  • LeBron James almost missed his second free throw with 0.5 left in the fourth quarter. It was very fortunate for Cleveland that it went in. At least it seemed fortunate. On the other hand: Anderson Varejao's hand was right there. If the ball had rolled out, it looked like he would have had a putback for the regulation win.

  • With 0.5 left in regulation, the game tied at 100, and Orlando inbounding the ball, Varejao and Howard got tangled and fell. The whole arena was irate. I got a dozen texts, voicemails, and e-mails from people telling me the league was a sham. But I watched it a dozen times in slow motion. Probably a good no-call, but you could make a case it should have been a foul on Howard, who twice grabbed Varejao in the sequence.

  • In the closing seconds of overtime, I think everyone was sure Dwight Howard would be called after he bit on a LeBron James fake, and made contact while James released the shot. It looked like a play we have all seen called a foul a zillion times. But replays revealed that at the time of contact, Howard was upright on the ground, and James jumped into him. 

  • Already I can feel the most paranoid of Cavalier fans amping up the worry, thinking that an exit from this series would not be a title, and that title was supposed to be the glue sticking LeBron James in Cleveland for the long-term. Too soon to worry about that.