Magic’s OT win puts Cavs at the verge of elimination
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Superman swooped in just in time.
Dwight Howard scored 10 points in overtime and the Orlando Magic, raining down 3-pointers like a Florida thunderstorm, withstood 44 points and a last-second shot by LeBron James for a 116-114 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Howard finished with 27 points, 14 rebounds and again made his free throws — 7 of 9 — for the resilient Magic, who made a team record 17 3-pointers — 11 after halftime.
Orlando can earn its first trip to the NBA finals since 1995 with a win in Game 5 on Thursday night in Cleveland.
Rafer Alston added 26 points and Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus had 17 each for the Magic.
James was spectacular again, adding 12 rebounds and seven assists, but he had eight turnovers for the Cavs, whose season of seasons is slipping away.
‘‘I had to get myself going. My teammates found me in the right place to score and I kept scoring,’’ Howard said of his overtime effort that included three dunks, a tip-in and two free throws. ‘‘I hate losing, especially on my home floor. We kept fighting for the win.’’
After Lewis made one of two free throws with 3.2 seconds left to give the Magic the 116-114 lead, the Cavs had one final chance.
And every person inside Amway Arena and millions watching on TV knew who was going to get it — James.
The league MVP, who saved the Cavaliers with a 3-pointer at the final horn in Game 2, was double-teamed on the inbounds pass but still managed to get free. He came back and got the ball before dribbling into the frontcourt as Magic fans held their collective breath.
James then rose from 35 feet, and with a clean look at the basket, sent his shot toward the rim.
It fell short, and Cleveland’s dream season may be next. James, who played the entire second half OT, has scored more than 40 in three games in the series. Cleveland is 0-3 in them.
‘‘He didn’t look tired. He just nearly hit a 50-footer from halfcourt,’’ Howard said of James, exaggerating the distance a bit. ‘‘I love playing against him.’’
Cleveland’s Mo Williams, who guaranteed the Cavs would win Game 4 and the series, scored 18 points, none after the third quarter. Delonte West added 17 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 12 for the Cavaliers.
Following the game, Magic fans chanted ‘‘One more win.’’
History is on the Magic’s side heading into Game 5. Teams with a 3-1 lead are a staggering 182-8 in series dating to 1947.
Lewis’ catch-and-shoot 3-pointer on an inbounds play with 4.1 seconds left in regulation gave the Magic, who attempted 38 3s, a 100-98 lead.
Cleveland set up a clear-out play for James, who drove the right side and was tripped in the lane by Pietrus with .5 seconds to play.
James swished his first free throw attempt, and then after a long delay, he made his second, which danced delicately on the rim for what seemed like an eternity before finally falling through.
Orlando called a timeout and tried a lob play for Howard, who was ridden out under the basket by Anderson Varejao. Both players tumbled out of bounds, and although there was enough contact for the officials to call two or three fouls, there was no whistle.
Howard screamed in protest, pleading his case to anyone who would listen.
‘‘Are you serious?’’ Howard said, turning to the media section. ‘‘If that was LeBron … ‘‘
Cleveland’s Daniel Gibson made two free throws to open overtime, and then it was Howard’s turn.
He dunked the first two times he touched it, shaking the backboard each time and Orlando opened what looked to be an insurmountable six-point lead with 1:11 left on Howard’s tip-in.
James wasn’t done, though.
He made a left-handed scoop, two free throws and an are-you-kidding-me? 3 while falling into Orlando’s bench with 4.6 seconds to go.
The Cavs put Lewis on the line, and when he short-armed his first free throw, the Cavs had life.
However, James couldn’t repeat his Game 2 miracle and must now hope he and the Cavs can regroup at home, where they are 43-3 this season.
Alston, acquired at the trading deadline from Houston after point guard Jameer Nelson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, made three 3-pointers — one banked in — and scored 15 points in the third quarter with James guarding him as the Magic went into the fourth down just 79-78.
A New York streetball legend known as ‘‘Skip To My Lou’’ before he came to the NBA, Alston was Orlando’s main offensive threat as the Cavs let James roam the paint to help out on Howard down low. The strategy backfired as Alston riddled the Cavs with jumpers.
Howard picked up his sixth technical foul for taunting Varejao after a layup in the fourth quarter. Cleveland’s forward had draped his arms around Howard in a failed attempt to stop him from scoring, but Howard muscled in his shot before getting his T.
He’ll have behave himself from here out. A seventh technical would earn him an automatic 1-game suspension in the playoffs — a thought that will keep coach Stan Van Gundy, already a worry wart, up at night.
‘‘I was just so emotional because I made the basket, I was not taunting or talking at anyone,’’ Howard said. ‘‘We get emotional on the court and they shouldn’t give a technical for that. I hope they take a look at it.’’
Notes: Shaquille O’Neal, looking even bigger in street clothes, sat in a courtside seat. … Gina Marie Incandela, an adorable 7-year-old who as a toddler had a speech disorder that made it impossible for her to form words, sang the national anthem. The Magic are 4-0 in the postseason when she sings.
James 13-29 14-18 44, Varejao 4-8 1-1 9, Ilgauskas 5-9 2-2 12, M.Williams 5-15 8-9 18, West 7-15 3-3 17, Szczerbiak 1-4 0-1 2, Gibson 2-5 2-2 8, Wallace 2-2 0-0 4, Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 39-87 30-36 114.
Turkoglu 5-13 3-4 15, Lewis 5-9 5-6 17, Howard 10-16 7-9 27, Alston 10-17 0-0 26, Lee 2-6 0-0 5, Johnson 2-4 2-4 7, Pietrus 5-13 2-4 17, Battie 0-1 0-0 0, Gortat 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 40-80 19-27 116.
Cleveland 25 33 21 21 14 — 114
Orlando 21 29 28 22 16 — 116
3-Point Goals—Cleveland 5-26 (M.Williams 3-10, West 1-2, James 1-8, Gibson 0-1, Pavlovic 0-2, Ilgauskas 0-3), Orlando 6-17 (Alston 2-4, Lewis 2-4, Lee 1-2, Pietrus 1-5, Turkoglu 0-1, Johnson 0-1). Fouled Out—Varejao, Ilgauskas, Howard. Rebounds—Cleveland 55 (Ilgauskas 9), Orlando 51 (Turkoglu 10). Assists—Cleveland 17 (James 9), Orlando 16 (Turkoglu 7). Total Fouls—Cleveland 34, Orlando 24. Technicals—West, Howard. Flagrant Fouls—Johnson. A—17,461 (17,461).