How many acts in LeBronathon?
LeBron James has single-handedly willed the Cavaliers to two wins already
Although they survived, the Cavaliers can't build on a win like this
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy has three big concerns heading into Game 6
CLEVELAND -- If you want something done ... what you do is either score or assist in 32 consecutive points in a virtuoso performance.
LeBron James has now personally won two games in these Eastern finals. First of all, he stole Game 2 on a last-second three, which now looks altogether straightforward and painless compared to the enervating route he took in Game 5 on Thursday, when every Cavaliers' point was scored through him over the decisive 11:33 stretch. The Cavs were trailing 79-75 when he put his foot down by assisting Daniel Gibson's three-pointer in the final minute of the third quarter, and they were winning 107-96 when James' remarkable 32-point run concluded on the three-point drive created by his pass to Anderson Varejao.
The 112-102 (RECAP | BOX) victory was not so much a game the Cavaliers can build upon -- unless they plan to keep playing through LeBron for entire quarters -- as it was an act of survival. They go to Orlando for Game 6 Saturday still trailing 3-2 in the series, but hoping the Magic will feel pressure to close them out while his Cleveland teammates are inspired by the extended 32-17 run waged by James down the stretch.
"When my guys make shots, it makes it a lot easier because it allows me to go one-on-one with a defender,'' said James, looking tired after his triple-double of 37 points (on 24 shots), 14 rebounds and 12 assists in 46 minutes. "That's what I need from my guys. I don't add no more pressure on my teammates, but they know we're a very strong team when they knock down shots.''
And yet James succeeded in showing another side of his leadership. Having gone out of his way all year long to be one of the guys, he turned into the boss Thursday and let his teammates know he needed more than they'd been giving. He didn't appear to embarrass anyone, but he didn't indulge Wally Szczerbiak after he had missed an open three at the end of the third and came running back to the bench all fired up; James' slow gait and incredulous body language made it clear that he was interested in nothing more than bottom-line production.
After Varejao had fumbled a fourth-quarter pass back to James, who responded by passing it out wide to Gibson for a three to put Cleveland up 97-93, James turned to Varejao with his fingers clenched to implore him to hold onto the ball. Clearly those orders were taken in the proper spirit, for with 1:07 remaining, Varejao was catching and finishing a sharp James pass along the baseline for the run-ending three-point play (107-96).
"That's what great players do,'' said Cleveland coach Mike Brown. "Great players put the team on their back and everybody steps up.''
The Cavaliers created opportunities for James by delivering him the ball at the top of the key, where it was hard to double-team him as he began his dribble. James went 15-for-19 from the foul line and is averaging 16.6 free-throw attempts in the series. "When you are getting close to 20 free-throw attempts every night, that's just going to make it tough,'' said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy. "We've got to find a way to keep him from every single time he drives the ball, it is a foul. We've got to do something to keep him off the free-throw line.''
But that's not all they need to fix. Dwight Howard (24 points and 10 rebounds) fouled out for the third time in the series on a three-point drive by James that made it 102-93 with 2:22 to go, and Howard clearly feels he is getting the raw end of the officiating compared to LeBron, who has been whistled for 15 personals overall compared to Howard's 27. "Can't worry about it, they are either going to call a foul or they are not going to call it,'' said Howard. "My main job is try to stay focused and not worry about some of the calls that tend not to go my way.''
Another negative trend for Orlando was the requisite poor start in this building. The Magic found themselves down 34-12 in the opening quarter before they made their typical extended second-period run to pull within 56-55 at the half. That move left the audience disheartened and often silent while brooding over the likelihood of Orlando closing out the series by winning a second game in Cleveland -- as many as the Cavs had yielded over the entire regular season.
In Cleveland's favor was the return to form of Mo Williams (24 points on 14 shots), center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (16 on eight shots) and Gibson (11 on five). In the fourth quarter, the Cavs held Orlando to 38.5 percent overall, including 2-of-8 from the comfort of the three-point line. The Magic wasted 29 from Hedo Turkoglu, but Van Gundy's bigger concern will be to amp up the defense and create a strong start while keeping Howard out of foul trouble.
As for James, what else can be tried? The league MVP is averaging an unfathomable 41.2 points, 8.2 assists and 8.6 rebounds to keep his team afloat. "The game is basically all LeBron all the time,'' said Van Gundy. Can he limit the LeBronathon to one final episode?
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