Orlando Sentinel – May 23, 2009 – Relax, Magic fans.
Cleveland star LeBron James’ last-second 3-pointer to win Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals felt like a dagger, but the Cavs were supposed to win.
After winning Game 1 in Cleveland, the Magic stole home-court advantage.
Orlando can now win the series if it claims three victories in front of a friendly home crowd.
Teams in the same boat have a long, rich history of losing Game 2.
Visiting teams who grab a 1-0 advantage in the NBA playoffs have only won the second game on the road in a seven-game series 24 percent of the time.
Former NBA player and ESPN analyst Jon Barry says it may be subtle, but visiting teams do tend to be less aggressive in Game 2 if they’ve got a 1-0 series advantage.
“I think it’s only natural to let up a little bit,” Barry said. “We certainly saw that again Friday night, with Orlando getting down 23 and then they snapped out of it.
“They played well and had a chance to win at the end of the game.”
John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, says it should not be surprising or especially distressing that Orlando dropped Game 2 in Cleveland.
“When one team wins, it does have the tendency to fall down a bit,” Murray said. “It’s called regression to the mean. The other team is fighting and struggling to change something. If you get satisfied, you don’t make as much effort to change things. You may not play with the same hunger.”
It’s all part of the psychology of a seven-game playoff series.
The mental part of the game plays a small but significant role in NBA postseason wins and losses.
You can’t win a championship solely on nerves of steel, but in extremely close matchups mental makeup matters.
The Magic took the first mental advantage in the series against Cleveland by winning Game 1 and the chance to win the series by sweeping games in Orlando.
“You always want to be at home,” Barry said. “You feed off a crowd’s energy. Some guys like to play on the road and feed off the crowd yelling at them, but I always think home teams are more inspired by the fans.”
Murray said home-court advantage matters more in basketball than any other sport.
“The fans are a lot closer to the game and have a much greater chance to influence the players,” he said. “Everything positive is rewarded with a cheer and everything negative is rewarded with a jeer or some other sort of negative reaction. As you continue in the playoffs with more at stake, the atmosphere gets more and more intense.”
Barry said Magic fans should be able to erase memories of James’ shot, which he said should not define the series.
“Obviously, a lot of people think Orlando is going to be devastated after LeBron hit that game-winning shot, but the team is going to be fine,” he said. “This is a great series and it’s not going to be decided by that shot. I think people put way too much emphasis on how a team does the game before and worry too much about one shot impacting the psyche of a team. NBA teams seem to put a game behind them a lot easier in the playoffs than regular season.
“The Magic will be fine in Game 3 as long as their fans come out and support them.”