CLEVELAND - - The Cleveland Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA this season. They also swept through the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs. So did anyone really expect them to fold like origami in Thursday's must-win game against the Orlando Magic?
Of course not.
The Cavaliers, now trailing three games to two after a 112-102 victory over the Magic, must travel to Orlando for another must-win game Saturday. If they win that, it's back to Cleveland for Game 7 on Monday. If they complete this best-of-seven hat trick after trailing three games to one, they will be only the ninth team of out of 188 to accomplish this feat since the mid-1940s.
Yes, the odds are still long, especially playing against a team that fell behind by 22 points in the first quarter only to make it a close game until the last minute. The Magic even led by six in the second half.
League Most Valuable Player LeBron James continued his incredible playoff series. He came into the game averaging 42.3 points in the series and finished with a triple double (37 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists).
"It was a big game for us," James said. "You never want to disappoint the home crowd. It was win or go home."
James scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, and his three-point play with 2:22 left handed the Cavs a 102-93 lead. Magic center Dwight Howard (24 points) also fouled out trying to defend James.
James had some help from teammates this time as Mo Williams became the first Cavalier to score 20 points or more in the five games, finishing with 24. Zydrunas Ilguaskas (16 points) and Delonte West (13) also made contributions.
Orlando had seized a 3-1 series lead by offering a more balanced attack than Cleveland. Hedo Turkoglu scored 29 points, Rashard Lewis 15 and Mickael Pietrus 13. Game 4 hero Rafer Alston had a forgettable night, scoring just three points on 1-for-10 shooting.
The Cavs took advantage of a shaky Magic defense, shooting 50 percent. Orlando hurt itself at the free-throw line, making just 28 of 41.
James gave the Cavs a 99-93 lead with 3:33 remaining on a short jumper after Daniel Gibson nailed a three-pointer.
Cleveland took an 86-80 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Orlando responded, Pietrus hitting two threes to give the Magic an 90-89 edge.
Trailing by 22 after just nine minutes of play, the Magic had stormed back to take a 57-56 lead at the beginning of the third quarter on Howard's basket. Then Turkoglu drilled a three-pointer and another jumper and Courtney Lee added a basket, and the Magic was ahead by eight at 64-56.
The quarter ended with the Cavs leading 79-78 on Gibson's three-pointer.
The Magic made one of the most remarkable comebacks in its postseason history after falling behind 34-12 in the opening quarter.
It played about as badly as it has played during a 59-23 season, mustering little energy to make a defensive stop.
Reeking desperation, the Cavs charged out of their corner and tried to deliver the knockout, rushing to a 26-8 lead after a basket by James. At that point, Cleveland had made 10 of 11 shots.