- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

CLEVELAND | No longer untested, no longer unbeaten. The Cleveland Cavaliers finally met their match in the playoffs.

Superman’s team stopped them cold.

Dwight Howard scored 30 points, Rashard Lewis added 22 and the Orlando Magic rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to hand LeBron James and the Cavaliers their first loss of the postseason 107-106 on Wednesday night in the Eastern Conference finals opener.

James finished with 49 points, eight assists and six rebounds, but the league MVP walked off the floor with a slight limp after Cleveland’s stunning loss - just its third in 46 home games.

Lewis made a 3-pointer with 14.7 seconds left, and the Magic, who dethroned the champion Boston Celtics in the previous round, survived two shots by Cleveland in the final seconds. Mo Williams missed a catch-and-shoot jumper off a jump ball as the horn sounded, and the Cavaliers fell to 8-1 in the postseason.

“It’s a big victory,” said Howard, who broke one of the shot clocks with a dunk in the opening minutes. “We kept fighting the whole game. We kept believing we could win.”

Game 2 is Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena, which fell eerily silent after the Magic’s win.

As fans headed to the exits, they turned to observe James still on the floor and bent over in obvious pain. He seemed to be bothered by cramps in the fourth quarter and was tended to by Cleveland’s training staff before slowly making his way to the locker room.

Cleveland, coming off its second extended layoff of the playoffs after sweeping Atlanta, lost its grip on the game with a stagnant third quarter that carried into the fourth.

Orlando, which went 2-1 vs. Cleveland in the regular season, took its first lead at 85-84 with 10:06 left when Anthony Johnson hit a 3-pointer from the left corner. The bucket seemed to suck the air out of the raucous building, and Cavaliers 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 drawing a sixth foul on Howard, who added 13 rebounds. James completed the three-point play for a 106-104 lead, but Lewis came down and buried 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 the Cavaliers were able to force a jump ball. James tipped it behind him to Williams, but his last-second prayer hit the back of the rim.

Williams ended the first half by swishing a 67-footer to give the Cavaliers a 63-48 lead.

Taking the inbounds pass with 1.7 seconds left, Williams dribbled once and sent a high-arching shot like the ones he and the Cavaliers’ shooters work on at practice toward the basket. When it splashed through, James raised his arms and then wrapped Williams in a bear hug.

It was the third consecutive Game 1 in these playoffs that the Cavaliers have closed the first half with a buzzer-beating bucket. James did it against Detroit and Atlanta.

Leading by 15, the Cavaliers got complacent and lost their offensive rhythm in the third quarter. They stood around either waiting for James to do something or settling for jump shots that didn’t fall.

Orlando seized the chance to get back in it, and with Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus hitting 3-pointers, the Magic outscored the Cavaliers 30-19 in the period to pull within 82-78 entering the fourth.

Unlike the previous two Game 1s in these playoffs, when James came out attacking the rim, he was happy to defer to his teammates early. He threaded a pass to Anderson Varejao for Cleveland’s first hoop, and he had four assists before he scored his first basket on a goaltending call on Howard with 3:42 left in the first quarter.

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