Magical ending not the end for Orlando
LeBron's buzzer-beater made history, but that doesn't mean the Magic are, too
That last-second heave in Game 2 will have far more impact on the legend of LeBron than it will on Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
It changes the way we think of him, makes you want to proclaim, "He is 'The One,'" as when Neo came back to life and made the bullets stop in "The Matrix." From now on, anything and everything seems possible with LeBron.
But that doesn't mean the Orlando Magic have to bow down to him. Nor does it mean they will roll over just because LeBron's miracle 3-pointer hurt their feelings. We've already discussed the myth of momentum. Now let's talk about the fallacy of the "devastating loss."
There's a common thread to these great finishes in NBA playoff history:
• Miller, 3-pointer vs. Chicago Bulls, 1998 Eastern Conference finals Game 4
• Sam Jones (Boston Celtics), jumper vs. Los Angeles Lakers 1969 NBA Finals Game 4
• Magic Johnson (Lakers), "junior" sky hook vs. Celtics, 1987 NBA Finals Game 4
• Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks), sky hook vs. Celtics, 1974 NBA Finals Game 6
• Bob Harrison (Minneapolis Lakers), 40-footer vs. Syracuse Nationals, 1950 NBA Finals Game 1
• Paul Seymour (Syracuse Nationals), 43-footer vs. Minneapolis Lakers, 1954 NBA Finals Game 2
• Horry (San Antonio Spurs), 3-pointer vs. Pistons, 2005 NBA Finals Game 5
• Jerry West (Lakers), steal and layup vs. Celtics, 1962 NBA Finals Game 3
• Dennis Johnson, jumper vs. Lakers, 1985 NBA Finals Game 4
• Larry Johnson (Knicks), four-point play vs. Pacers, 1999 Eastern Conference finals Game 3
There was no momentum carried forward for the winner, no emotional hangover for the loser. Never underestimate the ability of professional athletes to shut out the past and refocus on the present. (The most underrated example of that in these playoffs was Dirk Nowitzki scoring 33, 44 and 32 points after discovering that his live-in girlfriend faced criminal charges in multiple states and was a serial alias-user with more names than Dikembe Mutombo.)
Losing in such dramatic fashion doesn't count for any more than one loss. It doesn't negate the fact that the Magic did what they had to in Cleveland, snaring home-court advantage with the split. It doesn't erase the Magic's 107 points in Game 1 and 95 points in Game 2, against a Cleveland team that had not allowed an opponent to score more than 85 points in the first two rounds of the playoffs. It doesn't mean Hedo Turkoglu should not be considered one of the best fourth-quarter players in this postseason, or that Rashard Lewis is any less of a matchup problem for Cleveland.
Stan Van Gundy stepped in front of the bus on his own, blaming himself for not doing a better job of creating a defensive scheme to stop that play. That's like the Egyptians blaming themselves for failing to anticipate Moses parting the Red Sea. Get up and wipe the tire tracks off your suit. He didn't miss on the option of fouling, because when you're up by two points and in the bonus you don't want to give your opponent two (or possibly three) free throws.
He can address his team's horrid starts in the first two games, but there's no need to worry about the finishes. We haven't seen the Magic succumb to the late-game issues -- the defensive lapses or the rushed 3-pointers -- that afflicted them in the first 10 games of the playoffs. No panicking these days.
If LeBron has reached another level, so have the Magic. They closed out the Philadelphia 76ers on the road without Dwight Howard. They won a Game 7 in Boston, something only three other teams did in 20 previous tries. They beat LeBron in Cleveland, something only one other team has done this season.
And if the historical trend continues, they'll shake off the supposed devastating loss and win Game 3 in Orlando.