LeBron's buzzer-beater lifts Cavaliers over Magic
CLEVELAND: The Cleveland Cavaliers needed a miracle. LeBron James delivered. James made a fadeaway 3-pointer over Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu as the final horn sounded Friday night to give the Cavaliers, their season a heartbeat from major trouble, a 96-95 victory over the Orlando Magic that evened the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece.
From 23 feet — matching his jersey number — James made a shot unlike any before in Cleveland history.
Taking the inbounds pass from Mo Williams, James only had time to turn his shoulders toward the rim and fire. As the shot dropped in, James sprinted into the arms of his teammates as 20,562 stunned fans hugged in disbelief.
In the past, this was the kind of shot that happened against the Cavs. Remember Michael Jordan over Craig Ehlo?
Well, James has changed everything in Cleveland.
Game 3 is Sunday night in Orlando, where the Magic beat the Cavaliers twice this season and thumped by 29 points on April 3.
One second before James' shot, Turkoglu had hit a 12-footer in the lane to give the Magic, who overcame a 23-point deficit in the first half, a 95-93 lead. Cleveland called a timeout and set up a play for James, the league's MVP who finished with 35 points.
James darted toward the basket to get some room on Turkoglu and cut back near the top of the circle before letting loose with the shot of his life. After seeing James' only 3-pointer of the game fall, Williams dropped to his knees and pounded the floor with his right hand as Quicken Loans Arena shook to its core.
Officials looked at the replay to make sure it should count.
There was no doubt.
"We just couldn't afford to go down 0-2," James said. "That's just a great shot. Now we have to get ready for Game 3. There's a lot to clean up."
Rashard Lewis scored 23 points and Turkoglu had 21 for the Magic. Dwight Howard scored 10 — 20 below his Game 1 performance — and added 18 rebounds.
Williams had 19 points and Zydrunas Ilguakas had 12 points and 15 rebounds for Cleveland.
"Wow. I seen it before, Hedo has hit big shot after big shot in the regular season and I had to match him shot for shot," James said. "Rashard Lewis hit the game-winner in Game 1 and I matched it in Game 2.
"I knew it was good," James said of his shot, "but you never know. The camera never lies and they had to go check it out."
Like the hand powder James famously blows above his head before every game, Cleveland's season was on the verge of disappearing into thin air.
Their offense out of whack and their defense not up to its usual standards, the Cavaliers let the Magic overcome a huge deficit for the second straight game.
Turkoglu's 3-pointer with 48.7 seconds left had tied it 93-93, and the Cavs appeared to take the lead on James' left-handed layup over Howard. But he was called for traveling, one of several calls that could have gone either way in a second half filled with whistles.
"That walk — great call by the refs," James said, "glad I had a chance to redeem myself."
Turkoglu's shot over Sasha Pavlovic, who gave the Cavs a lift off the bench with nine points, had Cleveland fans reliving all those moments of sports heartbreak — Jordan's Shot, John Elway's Drive, The Fumble — that have led to the city's 45-year championship drought.
James, though, the kid from down the Interstate in nearby Akron, restored their confidence that this might finally be Cleveland's season.
Down by 23 in the second quarter the Magic were within 12 at halftime.
By the end of the third they had cut it to six, and when Lewis backed down Delonte West and scored on a short jumper with 6:12 left, Orlando had tied it at 84-all.
The Cavaliers' offense wasn't particularly efficient, but it was effective. Their defense was spectacular.
Unlike Game 1, the Magic struggled to get the ball deep in the lane to Howard. And when the All-Star center did touch it near the basket, he had a man between himself and the rim and sometimes two other Cleveland defenders pestering him from behind.
Notes:@ The officials missed what should have been a technical foul on Williams in the first quarter for throwing the ball at Howard's back. ... Before the game, James was asked if he could guard Howard. "No," he said. "I did a couple times at practice with the USA (Olympic) Team. It didn't work out too well for me. I tried to use my strength and it didn't work out." ... An elderly man was taken for medical treament after Williams crashed into him while chasing a loose ball. As the fan was being transported from the floor in a wheelchair, Williams came over and put his arm around him. The man was back in his seat after halftime.