CLEVELAND Slapped with his sixth personal foul and disqualified, Dwight Howard took a seat on Orlando s bench with just 25 seconds left.
His night was over. Superman had been stripped of his powers. The outcome of a Game 1 drenched in Game 7 intensity would be decided without him.
Looking up, Howard spotted the hero: Rashard Lewis.
He gave me three winks, Howard said. He was signaling he was going to hit a big 3. And he did.
Lewis made a 3-pointer with 14.7 seconds left and the keep-shooting-til-they-go-in Magic, who trailed by 15 points at halftime, withstood a 49-point performance by LeBron James to stun the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-106 in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.
Three days after eliminating the defending champion Boston Celtics, the Magic put a spell on the previously unchallenged and top-seeded Cavaliers. Cleveland had cruised through the first two playoff rounds, winning its first eight games by double digits.
It was all so easy. Not anymore.
The Cavs lost their winning streak and their air of invincibility.
It definitely hurts, said James, who had to be assisted on the floor following the game because of leg cramps. But a series is not won or lost in one game.
Howard, who damaged the 24-second shot clock with a Shaq-like dunk in the first quarter, scored 30 points and Lewis added 22, including 12 in the fourth quarter on 5-of-5 shooting. Hedo Turkoglu scored 15 points with 14 assists for Orlando, which can take a 2-0 lead with a win in Game 2 on Friday night.
James added eight assists, six rebounds and three blocks, but the league s MVP got little help from his supporting cast. Mo Williams, pestered by Orlando s 6-foot-5 Courtney Lee, scored 17 on just 6-of-19 shooting and didn t help James during crucial stretches in the second half.
I have to take pressure off that guy, Williams said, referring to James.
Despite his tough night, Williams had a chance to be a hero in the final second but he missed a leaning, catch-and-shoot 17-footer after James won a jump-ball tap against Turkoglu.
I m not an optimistic guy and when Mo Williams caught it and shot it off of one foot, I was sure it was going in, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Cleveland gave this one away. The Cavaliers lost their grip on the game with a stagnant offensive third quarter that carried into the fourth. Also, the Magic shot 55 percent from the floor 59 percent in the second half against the league s top defensive team.
Unacceptable, James said. We should have lost.
Orlando, which went 2-1 vs. Cleveland in the regular season and beat the Cavs by 29 on April 3, took its first lead at 85-84 with 10:06 left when Anthony Johnson buried a 3-pointer from the left corner. The bucket seemed to suck the air out of the raucous building and Cavs coach Mike Brown quickly called a timeout to stop the Magic s run and get James back in.
The Magic, though, kept making big shots with Lewis hitting a jumper with 31.6 seconds left to give Orlando a 104-103 lead.
James then drove and scored on a runner while fouling out Howard, who added 13 rebounds. James completed the three-point play for a 106-104 lead but Lewis came down and nailed his 3-pointer over a closing Anderson Varejao.
You got to play 48 minutes, Lewis said. The most important thing is to play 48 minutes. We played only one half, but it was the second half.
On Cleveland s last possession, Delonte West missed an open 3 but James was able to tie up Turkoglu for a jump ball. James tipped it back to Williams, but his last-second prayer hit the back of the rim and the Cavs walked off knowing they had given up home-court advantage for this round.
This is good for us, Brown said. We didn t expect go undefeated.
Williams ended the first half by swishing a 67-footer to give the Cavaliers a 63-48 lead.
In the Orlando locker room moments later, Van Gundy ripped into his players for not stopping James, who had 26 in the opening half.
He told us, We re all witnesses, Howard recalled, using the slogan James has popularized with his commercials. That got us fired up.
James shrugged off Van Gundy s comment to his team as reverse psychology.
You know how he is. He s funny.
Van Gundy, though, was serious when he addressed trying to stop James, who was 20-of-30 from the field.
The only thing I don t leave this game with is any idea whatsoever of what to do with him, he said. As a coach, I don t have a clue.
Maybe so, but he and the Magic have a 1-0 lead.
Notes:Orlando s bench outscored Cleveland s 25-5. ... NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the most celebrated sports star in Cleveland history, sat courtside. ... James isn t surprised that he, Howard, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony all members of the U.S. Olympic team that won gold in China last summer are all still in the playoffs. We all worked really hard, he said. That experience was great for everyone.
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