Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dwight Howard Eats a Double Double to Beat Cavaliers! professional athletes who have certain superstitions that link their personal belief to their game day performance. Michael Jordan wore his fabled North Carolina College Game Shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform, Nolan Ryan ate a grilled rib-eye steak before every game, Chuck Norris eats 5 babies (Not Confirmed), and Dwight Howard eats two McDonald's(R) Double Quarter Pounders with Cheese.

The following was taken from columnist Chris Sheridan's article, "Game 1: Stunning Comeback Sinks Cavaliers," about the amazing 107-106 Orlando Magic Eastern Conference Finals Win: But we started this column by asking about fuel, which is why it was so amusing to hear Rafer Alston pop into the locker room afterward and pronounce to anyone who was listening: "It was the McDonald's! Dwight's McDonald's and Hedo's pizza."

Full Article:

Game 1: Stunning Comeback Sinks Cavaliers

CLEVELAND -- Brace yourselves, Cavs fans, because this little factoid is going to make Wednesday night's loss hurt even a little more.

Playoff schedule
Los Angeles 1, Denver 0
Game 2: Thu., 9 ET, LAL

Orlando 1, Cleveland 0
Game 2: Fri., 8:30 ET, CLE

Full playoff schedule

You know what fueled that comeback? That uncanny resilience? That seemingly impossible victory for the Orlando Magic in a game that appeared over at halftime?

We'd like to give all the credit to coach Stan Van Gundy, who kept telling his team to keep fighting and to stop fawning, not to quit, to keep cutting into the lead and to induce a little panic. And certainly, that credit is deserved.

But we started this column by asking about fuel, which is why it was so amusing to hear Rafer Alston pop into the locker room afterward and pronounce to anyone who was listening: "It was the McDonald's! Dwight's McDonald's and Hedo's pizza."

Turns out Howard got himself ready for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals by downing two quarter pounders with cheese, large fries and a Sprite, while Turkoglu went all non-Turk, keeping the yogurt and the olives off his pizza, downing a plain cheese pie.

"Imagine what some vegetables might have done for you?" Howard was asked.

"That physique look like it needs vegetables?" Alston interjected, prompting one side of the Magic locker room to burst into laughter.

For some of you, this is one of those mornings when you begin kicking yourself shortly after you wake up. You check the previous night's scores, you remind yourself that Mo Williams had ended the first half with what appeared to be a 67-foot dagger, and then you scratch your head and wonder two things: How the hell did that happen? And why the heck didn't I stick it out to the end?

The Cavaliers were asking themselves a variation of that latter question at the conclusion of a topsy-turvy night, an evening when Orlando steadily rallied back from a 16-point deficit and got a clutch 3-pointer from Rashard Lewis with 14.7 seconds left to defeat the Cavs 107-106 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Stunning point No. 1: The Magic overcame a 49-point performance from LeBron James.

Stunning point No. 2: The Magic won despite making only three 3-pointers over the first three quarters.

Stunning point No. 3: Junk food wasn't the only thing they got a mouthful of.

"He [Van Gundy] told us we all look like witnesses," Howard said of his coach's halftime speech, "and we can't have that. That really motivated us, because he said y'all are out there just watching [James] dunk, and that brought some fire out of us."

But while Van Gundy did some screaming, he also did some pleading and prodding, repeatedly telling his team that Cleveland might not respond well to a nip-and-tuck game given the fact that they had steamrolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs, winning every game by double-digit margins, and could turn a tad uptight if things got a little too tight.

And he couldn't have been more right.

"The one thing about our team, and it's been pretty consistent all year, but this is a resilient basketball team. This team will keep playing," Van Gundy said. "All I was talking about was getting our heads right, gather ourselves, and try to do it possession by possession. I said we're not going to get it all back in six minutes, but let's get it to 10, get it to six, get it to two and put pressure on; then we got the lead. The players did a very good job of that, keeping their heads and staying in the game."

Howard led Orlando with 30 points and 13 rebounds, but he was on the bench for the game-winning shot after drawing his sixth foul with 25.6 seconds left.

Funny thing, though (at least it seemed funny to Howard and Lewis, because they joked about it afterward), was that Lewis turned to Howard as the play was about to begin and winked three times, signaling he was going to go for the win with a 3-pointer.

And that's what happened, Lewis receiving the pass from Turkoglu for the last of his 14 assists and burying the shot from the corner. Orlando then played tight defense, forcing a jump ball with one second left that ended with Williams missing an off-balance jumper at the buzzer.

"It definitely hurt, but we've got to adjust. I've said it before: A series is not won or lost in one game," said James, who cramped up after the game and took several minutes to exit the court. "I'm not hurt. If you've ever caught a cramp, your body will tell you when you're ready to move. I just have to stay better hydrated over the next two days."

"Dwight played great," James said, "But Lewis was the X factor for them."

So was Turkoglu, who took over the ballhandling chores for most of the fourth quarter, fought off the Cavs' blitzing traps and passed for seven of his 14 assists in the final quarter.

Turkoglu said point guard (or point forward) was a position he had been learning since he was a 12-year-old, his coaches in Turkey telling him that his combination of size, sight lines and skills could make him a dominant ballhandler in the Magic Johnson mold.

That was the way he played in Game 7 against Boston, and as in that game -- although not to the same momentum-shifting degree -- once Turkoglu got rolling, the rest of the team followed.

As for Howard, he was an entirely different player in the low post without having to deal with the heft and bulk of Celtics center Kendrick Perkins as he had in the previous series, and being just a foot or two closer to the basket when he got into position to shoot made all the difference (of his 20 shots, he made 14).

James did his thing (49 points, 20-of-30 shooting, 8 assists, 6 rebounds), but the Cavs didn't do their team thing in the second half nearly as well as they did in the first, reverting to the standstill offense that has so often doomed their fluidity, giving James the ball at the top and spreading the floor while waiting for him to shoot or create.

By the end, what at halftime had been a euphoric arena had turned into an island of disgust.

Lately, they aren't used to losing around here (let's not forget that 39-2 regular-season record), and the anger fans were feeling was palpable as the sellout crowd filed out of the building. The night began with the collective thought, "When exactly are the Lakers coming to town?" But that had been replaced shortly before midnight by the simplistic, "How the heck did that happen?"

Adversity, welcome to Cleveland. Or perhaps we should say welcome back.

"[Adversity] is always good. Nobody said it was going to be easy," James said. "It's one game, and if we just look at it as one game, we'll be fine. If we think the world is coming down on our heads, we're going to lose pretty bad."

For now, we'll put this one down as a bad loss -- a bad loss to a team whose nutritionist was either named Chuck E. Cheese or Ronald McDonald.

Apologies, Cavs fans, if that makes it hurt even more. But there comes a time when every champion has to bounce back from something bad, and now the onus is on the Cavs -- if they are truly championship material -- to prove that's something they're capable of.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.

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