Game 7 drama showed up and seized Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic.
CLEVELAND — Game 7 drama showed up and seized Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic.
So much for this series needing to breathe, searching for its dramatic range.
It found all the right notes and fast-forwarded past routine and ordinary and hit thrilling almost immediately. The Cavaliers squandered a dynamic 49-point, eight-assist performance from NBA MVP LeBron James as the indefatigable Magic rallied to win, 107-106, on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Magic's Dwight Howard fouled out with 25.6 seconds left, finishing with 30 points, leaving the hero's stage to Rashard Lewis, who hit the game-winning three-pointer with 14.7 seconds remaining.
"He gave me three winks," Howard said. "He was signaling he was going to hit a big three, and he did."
Lewis had 22 points, shooting nine for 13, and he hit three three-pointers, all in the second half.
Finally, Cleveland's path in the playoffs hit a pothole, resulting in a loss this postseason after eight consecutive victories. The Cavaliers kept using the word "stagnant" to describe themselves.
"Nobody said it was going to be easy. It's one game. ... It definitely hurt. We've got to adjust," James said.
He didn't leave the court right away afterward and appeared to be hobbling. James said in the interview room that he wasn't injured but said he "caught a few cramps" and felt dehydrated, possibly a result of the long layoff between series.
The loss hurt more. Orlando didn't get its first lead until two minutes into the fourth quarter, having chipped away at big Cleveland leads. The Cavaliers were up as much as 16 points in both the first and second quarters.
"He just told us at halftime, you're all witnesses," Howard said of Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy's words. "He has a great way of motivating us."
James said Van Gundy was using "reverse psychology," on his players adding that, "You know how he is. He's funny."
James seemed to have an answer every time the Magic pulled close. At least until the fourth quarter when the Orlando went on an 11-2 run to go ahead, 89-86.
"We tried to stop LeBron from scoring 50," Howard said.
Said Van Gundy: "LeBron just made it so difficult. The one thing I don't leave this game with is any idea whatsoever what to do with him. As a coach, you're supposed to have some idea. I don't have a clue."
Guess there is something to the theory that this is the Cavaliers' first real test.
"That's why this is a series," said Cleveland Coach Mike Brown, who called Howard a monster in the low post. "A series isn't won or lost after one game. I have confidence in our guys. I trust our guys. We'll be ready for Game 2 when it comes around."
In any event, James vs. Howard proved to be more than an adequate undercard.
James certainly had game face going, visibly cranking up his intensity. He had 26 points in the first half, which included a dazzling sequence of a right-handed jam, a steal and a three-pointer in the final stages of the first quarter. (The biggest highlight, though, was a 67-footer by the Cavaliers' Mo Williams just as the first half ended.)
But James saved his best theatrics for a swat of Howard's shot, blocking his shot in the third quarter.
Howard, who got into foul trouble when he picked up his fourth of the game late in the third quarter, spread out his damage, scoring 18 points in the first half and took down the shot clock in the game's first minute. "I tried to break the goal," he said. "It was a fun thing to watch."
That led to a nine-minute delay, and workers had to put the clocks on the baseline in the first half: Home Depot meets the Quicken Loans Arena.
And, finally, Cleveland meets a worthy playoff opponent.