Game 4 ended up being more of the same for both teams, so it was not surprising that Orlando won again. Cavs coach Mike Brown elected to stick with much of what his team has been doing in this series, opting for only a slight variation in his rotation but really preaching execution on both ends.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy likewise changed little, but he was excellent in reacting to whatever changes Brown threw at him. So it seems Game 5 is set; each team has decided on its respective strategy, and now needs to out-execute the other. Advantage, Orlando.
• As anticipated, Cleveland started Game 4 by not doubling Dwight Howard on paint catches. Brown was likely hoping that either Howard would miss some shots or the Magic would not feature him early. He was wrong on both counts, as Howard scored 11 points in the game's first six minutes. In Game 3 the Cavs left Rafer Alston alone in the first quarter as they were trying to deal with both Howard and the perimeter threats (more on this later). Forced to choose his poison, it's likely that Brown will again make Alston get Orlando off to a good start.
• Once Howard proved that he needed extra attention, the Magic started bombing away to counter the double-teams Howard drew. It took them more than seven minutes to finally make a shot (any shot), but when they did, they hit 3-of-4 on 3-pointers in less than a minute. Still, Brown's strategy of mixing up when and where the doubles come from is the best option for him. The hope is to coax Howard into a turnover by surprising him with the double.
• Offensively, Cleveland looked like its regular-season self -- for half the game. Its ball movement was crisp and flowed fast. Most of the guys employed catch-and-go actions, instead of the catch-and-read variety, which slows the ball down and gives Orlando's helpers time to adjust. This choice was effective, as were the obvious decisions by Delonte West and Mo Williams to look for their first good shot instead of waiting for a better one that often never came.
But as the game evolved, the Cavs' offense devolved largely into LeBron James as creator/scorer. It worked to some degree, but the offense was not nearly as effective as it was in the first half. No emphasis on execution is more important than what happens to Cleveland on offense in Game 5.
• Zydrunas Ilgauskas got caught in no man's land on a Hedo Turkoglu curl, meaning he didn't really stop the curl but drifted too far from Howard. This occurred in Game 3 as well, with the same result: a dunk for Howard. He has to either take Turkoglu totally out of the play, or not offer curl protection at all and force Turkoglu to finish.
• A similar problem exists on some of Orlando's pick-and-rolls with Howard. The Cavs who are defending 3-point shooters stay home, and since the Cavs' defender guarding the screener has to help on the dribbler, Howard dives right to the hoop. Inexplicably, he earned some uncontested dunks. Help has to come sooner, and with force, and then be ready to rotate back out and chase the shooters off the line.
• LeBron did well sticking with Lewis on the perimeter. Expect to see more of that.
• Orlando has to fight the urge to score a knockout punch right away. A steady grind is the Magic's best ticket to the Finals. When they establish Howard inside, everything flows beautifully. Doing so in Game 5 is a must. But so is finding Howard in pick-and-rolls.
• After a Howard ball-screen-and-dive dunk, the Magic got two 3-pointers because Cavs defenders moved under ball screens to stop the dunks. It's been the same challenge all postseason: Going inside-out is the best medicine for Orlando against Cleveland's sure-to-be-energized defense.
• Howard may have scored another 10 points if Orlando's post passers were more accurate. They need to be precise, and avoid throwing the ball towards the post defender's denial hand.
• When Cleveland was whipping the ball around and attacking with the dribble in the first half, Orlando's guys were caught on their heels far too often. Staying low and being ready to defend immediately is the answer.
• The Magic won't change their defensive plan, as it's been working well. But they still need to throw more bodies into the paint after a Cleveland shot and be more physical on the boards.
• Alston went for a Williams shot-fake, and ended up fouling him. Why?
• Tony Battie forgot to find Ben Wallace when Howard left him to move into his one-man zone. Wallace went right to the basket for an easy layup. To end the series, Orlando has to make Cleveland earn as many points as possible.
• Turkoglu backed down West most of the time in Game 3, but not in Game 4. It's easy for him to do, and he should look for it more often going forward.
• Wally Szczerbiak has the girth and strength to keep Lewis from backing him down into the paint. Instead, Lewis should work to get an easy shot right over him after a ball screen or a kickout.
Daniel Gibson got some run in Game 4, and hit two big 3-pointers. Had Cleveland won, he would have been one of its heroes. He's confident and capable of doing even more if given the chance.
Desperate to win, Cleveland will again rely on strong defense and rebounding, and lots of LeBron. A tight whistle greatly favors Orlando, other than earning LeBron more trips to the line.
Rashard Lewis had a mostly quiet Game 4, but is still a huge weapon who can go off. He had 29 in the closeout game in Philly and 19 in Game 7 in Boston.
Courtney Lee has struggled to shoot the 3 in this series and the postseason, and is likely to get more looks as Cleveland reacts to Alston's hot hand. But Lee shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc on the season.
It's easy to get caught up in the "if LeBron does not make that 3-pointer then this series would be over" hype. But don't forget that Cleveland lost two of those games by three points total. These are incredibly evenly matched teams.
Orlando has found an excellent rhythm and is locked in, while Cleveland is struggling with finding answers. Cleveland's home crowd and LeBron will help the team in finding its way, and Game 5 will likely boil down to a great fourth quarter again. Orlando is special on the road, but Cleveland is better than Philly and Boston.
Prediction: Cleveland wins Game 5
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European and D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.