ORLANDO, Florida, May 31 – The Orlando Magic will battle the Los Angeles Lakers for the National Basketball Association title after defeating Cleveland 103-90 in game six of the Eastern Conference finals.
Orlando’s "Superman" Dwight Howard poured in 40 points for the Magic, who are returning to the NBA finals championship series for the first time in 14 years.
To get there they stunned Cleveland – the team with the best regular-season record in the league and Most Valuable Player LeBron James – four-games-to-two in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The Magic will be making their first finals appearance since 1995, one year before Shaquille O’Neal departed as a free agent for Los Angeles.
Rashard Lewis added 18 points for the Magic, who hit 12 3-pointers in the victory.
"Total domination," Lewis said of Howard’s performance. "He totally dominated the game. He carried us on his back tonight."
The Cavaliers had won 66 regular-season games and won both of their opening playoff series in four-game sweeps.
But Orlando pushed them to the brink of defeat with a 116-114 overtime victory on Tuesday that gave the Magic a 3-1 series lead.
Cleveland had responded with a victory on Thursday to force Saturday’s game, but could get no further.
Orlando will travel to Los Angeles for game one against the Lakers on Thursday.
The Magic had beaten Philadelphia in six games and then beat the reigning champion Boston Celtics in seven games before subduing "King" James and the Cavaliers.
"I just think this team all year long has shown an incredible amount of heart," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "This team just keeps fighting back. They deserve it."
James scored 25 points with seven rebounds and seven assists in his least-impressive outing of the series. He was scoreless in the second quarter as the Magic seized an 18-point lead.
The defeat overshadowed the fact that James had a superb series, averaging more than 38 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the six games.
However, he had too little support from his teammates, with Mo Williams struggling to score and Orlando’s bench solidly outplaying Cleveland’s reserves.
A dejected James left the arena without speaking to the media.
After Howard slammed home a dunk with 2:21 to play, the chant of "Beat LA!" went up from the Orlando crowd – which included golf superstar Tiger Woods.
Howard was even solid from the free-throw line, making 12 of 16 on Saturday.
While Cleveland powered through the regular season, the Magic had to contend with a season-ending shoulder injury to point guard Jameer Nelson in February.
Orlando brought in guard Rafer Alston in a trade with Houston and helped revive the team’s playoff bid.
For Howard, the top draft selection in 2004, it was a vindication of his prediction two years ago that the Magic could challenge for the title.
"Everybody laughed," Howard said. "I mean everyone."
Now the Magic are looking forward to another tough series.
"You guys like to talk about pressure," said Mickael Pietrus, who scored 14 points off the bench for the Magic. "It’s a game of basketball. They made the game to compete for the trophy. Every game is a dogfight.
"Basketball is what we like, what we share with 20,000 fans every night," he said. "It’s fun."