Cavaliers And Magic To Settle Playoff Series Standoff With Game 7 -- The 'bEst Two Words In Sports'

Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs (4) waves his arms to get the fans cheering during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs (4) waves his arms to get the fans cheering during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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CLEVELAND (AP) — Donovan Mitchell pushed himself to his physical limits, leaving everything he had on the floor while trying to close out the precocious Orlando Magic.

Cleveland's star came up short. He gets another shot.

One more. Game 7.

"Best two words in sports,” Mitchell said late Friday night.

Unable to find a way to win on the road, the Cavs and Magic will settle their series on Sunday in a fitting winner-take-all finale between two teams that have put their strengths and weaknesses on public display for six games.

Only one advances to face the Boston Celtics, the beasts of the Eastern Conference who will be well-rested for whichever team escapes this Cavs-Magic stalemate.

For Mitchell, who scored 50 points — including Cleveland's final 22 and all 18 in the fourth quarter — during his virtuoso performance in Friday night's 103-96 loss in Game 6, everything that has happened prior to this is almost meaningless, an extended opening act.

“All the stuff you’ve done for six games really goes out the window. It’s all about desperation and will," he said. “How do we find ways to continually be relentless. I have no doubt that we’ll show up. I have no doubt Cleveland will show up.”

It would help Mitchell if a few more of his teammates showed up.

He was virtually alone for long stretches in Game 6 while trying to push the Cavs across the finish line and win a playoff series without LeBron James for the first time since 1993.

Mitchell did it on a cranky left knee that flared up throughout the second half, but barely slowed him. But while he did his part and backcourt mate Darius Garland added 21 points, the rest of Cleveland's lineup, which was missing center Jarrett Allen due to a rib injury, contributed only 25 on 10-of-33 shooting.

Cavs forward Evan Mobley, whose block on Franz Wagner in the final seconds sealed Cleveland's one-point win in Game 5, scored just three points on five shots and struggled after rolling his ankle in the first half.

Mobley was noticeably limping after the game.

The Magic capitalized on the Cavs' frontline shortcomings and dominated inside, outscoring Cleveland 66-38 in the paint and winning the rebound battle 48-38. Playing with customary aggression, Orlando also enjoyed a disparity at the free-throw line with 26 attempts to Cleveland's 10 — a gap likely to shrink on the road.

And while much of this is new to the Magic, who won just 22 games two years ago and 34 last year, there's a quiet confidence in a young team being forced to grow up quickly.

The stage hasn't overwhelmed Orlando to this point, and coach Jamahl Mosley believes his team is ready to face the ultimate win-or-else situation.

“These guys remember what got them here,” Mosley said. "Obviously, they do understand the magnitude. But we’ve also been the same team all year, the way in which we play, what we’ve called for and asked them to do — play with a sense of urgency every single night, play hard every single night, play for each other every single night, defend at a high clip.

“It doesn’t change, no matter what the game.”

That certainly seems to be the case for Magic forward Paolo Banchero, who scored 39 in Game 5, 27 in Game 6 and is averaging 25.2 points in his first playoff series.

The 21-year-old has been seemingly unfazed by the spotlight, which is about to get brighter and warmer than anything he and his teammates have experienced.

Banchero is confident the Magic won't shrink.

“Nobody really believed in us a couple years ago and last year, but we believed in each other and that’s all we would tell each other, that we know what we were capable of as a group,” he said. "The fact that we’re doing it is awesome.”


Series tied 3-3. Game 7, 1 p.m. EDT, ABC

— NEED TO KNOW: This No. 4 seed vs. No. 5 seed matchup has been as tight as advertised with both teams going 3-0 at home. The last series in which the home team won every game was 2018, a first-round matchup won by Boston over Milwaukee. ... The Cavs last played a Game 7 at home in 2018 and beat Indiana. ... Stretching to the regular season, Orlando has lost seven straight road games.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Cleveland's bench. The Cavs' supporting cast hasn't been nearly as helpful as needed, averaging just 18 points through six games. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff needs more from his subs, especially Caris LeVert, who is averaging 6.2 points in the series — eight under his season average.

— INJURY WATCH: Allen sat out Games 5 and 6 with a painful rib injury, and the Cavs sorely missed their man in the middle. Allen is Cleveland's most indispensable piece and without him the Cavs lack a vital rim protector to keep the Magic's big men at bay.

— PRESSURE IS ON: The stakes couldn't be higher for the Cavs, who spent all season seeking redemption from their first-round elimination by the Knicks a year ago. A loss on Sunday could lead to massive changes and perhaps impact whether Mitchell signs an extension with Cleveland this summer.