The Magic on the Rebound

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

In a postseason that lasts more than eight weeks, it's hard to appreciate the full scope of what a team has experienced. While most of us were falling in love with the Boston-Chicago series, the Magic were enduring their own emotional turbulence -- buzzer-beaters, blown leads, sweet vengeance, a suspension for their franchise player, and more sweet vengeance. And that was just the first round.

"I've said it throughout the season and throughout these playoffs, the one thing that you can't question with our team is their resilience in situations like that," Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said after his team's Game 3 win over the Lakers. "Whether it's from game to game, minute to minute, our team will keep playing."

Normally these sorts of statements are filled with clichés, but not in Orlando's case. Whether the Magic win the NBA title this season or not, they'll have built up enough scar tissue for future battle. Here's a sample of the gut-wrenching ups-and-downs from the Magic's 2009 playoff odyssey:

  • Heartbreak: First Round, Game 1 -- Philadelphia 100, Orlando 98
    As if blowing an 18-point second-half lead weren't devastating enough for the Magic, Andre Iguodala stuck a fadeaway dagger with 2.2 seconds remaining to steal homecourt advantage from the Magic. After the game, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy questioned his team's effort, and added, "I was surprised not only for our lack of intensity defensively, but I was really surprised with our lack of focus."

    Rebound: First Round, Game 2 -- Orlando 96, Philadelphia 87
    Hours after Dwight Howard is named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, it appeared as if the Magic might cough up another 18-point second-half lead. Howard fouled out of the game at a precarious moment in the fourth quarter. But the Magic hung on, and squared the series at 1-1, with a couple of key drives into the heart of the Sixers defense by Anthony Johnson and Rashard Lewis.

  • Heartbreak: First Round, Game 3 -- Philadelphia 96, Orlando 94
    It might have lacked the instant drama of Iguodala's big shot, but Thad Young's baseline drive/step-through/fumble/recovery/spin/layup in a tie game was just as mortifying for the Magic. After Rashard Lewis tied the game with a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter, the Magic didn't score for nearly four minutes down the stretch. The only consolation for Orlando was the fact that it was the Sixers who nearly blew the double-digit lead this time around.

    Rebound: First Round, Game 4 -- Orlando 84, Philadelphia 81
    Victimized by two Philly game-winners in their first three games, the Magic exact revenge on the Sixers' homecourt. With 14.8 seconds to go and the game tied at 81, Hedo Turkoglu drained a 25-footer over Thad Young with less than a second remaining. Turkoglu was euphoric after the game. "It feels great," he said. "It's a new series now."

  • Heartbreak: Conference Semifinals, Game 5 -- Boston 92, Orlando 88
    In Game 4, Orlando lost on Glen Davis' game-winning jumper off a pick-and-roll with Paul Pierce. As badly as that hurt, it paled in comparison to blowing a 14-point fourth quarter lead. Critics of Van Gundy -- Howard most prominent among them -- moaned about the number of touches Howard was getting (or not getting) in the fourth quarter.

    Rebound: Conference Semifinals, Game 6 -- Orlando 83, Boston 75
    In their first elimination game of the postseason, the Magic rallied from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter behind Howard's 23 points and 22 rebounds. Following the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was in awe of Howard's performance. "I guess Dwight Howard was right," Rivers said. "My gosh. He was unbelievable." Howard's numbers were nice, but it was the Magic defense, which held Boston to 77 points on 92 possessions, that pushed the series to a seventh game.

  • Heartbreak: Conference Finals, Game 2 -- Cleveland 96, Orlando 95
    Turkoglu had just drained a runner in the lane to give the Magic a two-point lead with a second remaining, and a likely 2-0 series lead headed home to Orlando. But that was before LeBron James' exhibition of the unconscious. Stan Van Gundy's resigned, what-are-you-gonna-do tilt of the head expressed the sheer improbability of the shot.

    Rebound: Conference Finals, Game 3 -- Orlando 99, Boston 89

    Orlando responded to the most heartbreaking playoff loss of recent memory with a grind-it-out affair that saw the two teams combine for 86 free throws. LeBron James accused Anthony Johnson of throwing a cheap elbow at Mo Williams that left the Cavs' point guard with two cuts above his left eye. The Magic embraced the physical turn the series was taking. "We just kept fighting. That's what we got to do, we fight to the end," Howard said after the game.

  • Heartbreak: NBA Finals, Game 2 -- Lakers 101, Orlando 96 (OT)
    Courtney Lee came oh so close to knotting the NBA Finals at a game apiece. He caught the inbounds lob pass from Hedo Turkoglu, but the putback skated off the glass and bounced off the front lip of the rim. The Magic were literally an inch from changing the entire tenor of the series, but instead left Los Angeles empty-handed, needing to win four out of five games to take the title.

    Rebound: NBA Finals, Game 3 -- Orlando 108, Lakers 104
    Buried by most observers, the Magic picked up the pieces on their home floor. They withstood the kind of outburst from Kobe Bryant in the first quarter that typically spells doom for Lakers' opponents. More important, the Magic's beleaguered guards found the bottom of the net, as they combined to go 18 for 28 from the field, and 7 for 8 from the line.