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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Magic edge Cavaliers; take 3-1 series lead

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) As LeBron James pulled up for the final shot, Orlando's crowd gasped, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy gulped and time stood still.

Spinning through the air, James' 3-pointer looked good.

Not this time, MVP. This was a Magic night.

Dwight Howard scored 10 points in overtime and Orlando, raining down 3-pointers like a Florida thunderstorm, withstood 44 points and the last-second fling by James for a 116-114 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

The resilient Magic, who have overcome injuries, double-digit deficits and a spat between their star and coach, are one win from their first trip to the NBA Finals since 1995.

"You can almost taste it," said Orlando's Rafer Alston, who scored 26 points. "We've got to win one more game and it's not going to be easy."

The Magic, who won a Game 7 in Boston in the last round, can close out the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Thursday.

Howard finished with 27 points, 14 rebounds and again made his free throws — 7 of 9 — and the Magic made a team playoff record 17 3-pointers. Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus had 17 points each for Orlando.

"We just have to keep fighting," Howard said. "We have an excellent opportunity in front of us. We can't think that anything's going to be easy. As a team, we believe that anytime we step on the floor and play our brand of basketball we can win."

James added 12 rebounds and seven assists, but he had eight turnovers for the Cavs. After Lewis made one of two free throws with 3.2 seconds left to give the Magic the 116-114 lead, Cleveland had one last chance.

Every person inside Amway Arena and millions watching on TV knew who was going to get the ball — James, who saved the Cavaliers with a 3-pointer at the final horn in Game 2.

He was double-teamed on the inbounds pass but still managed to get free. Dribbling into the frontcourt, James rose from 35 feet (11 meters), and with a clean look at the basket, sent his shot toward the rim.

When it fell short, Van Gundy could finally exhale.

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