I've been thinking about the Magic's 1-3 hole in the first round of the playoffs, and I'm finding myself surprisingly calm. If the Magic turn it around and win, it's a great comeback. If they lose in five, six or seven games, then, to me, it's a disappointment, yes, but certainly not something on the level of a disaster.
Magic fans have been spoiled the last three years with anything but first round exits in what has been arguably one of the best stretches in the franchise's history. Playoff victories over Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Charlotte and Atlanta, not to mention an Eastern Conference title are nothing to be ashamed of.
Compared to the franchise's other "era" of success ('94-'96) in which the Magic also won an Eastern Conference title and became one of only two teams to beat a Michael Jordan led Bulls team in the 90s during playoff time (not to mention four other series wins), this current stretch has been fun, though short of the ultimate goal.
Would a ring be nice? Yes. Would a second round appearance this year feel good? Of course. But if it were to end tonight (Tuesday) or in the next few nights, then I think I can live. It's an off-year, and the midseason shake-up, after an initial nine game winning streak, indicated as much.
The Magic need to retool for next year no matter what happens this year with the Hawks and/or Bulls/Pacers and onward. I'm not giving up because, even by the smallest margin of error available, the Magic are still alive. But losing in the first round to the Hawks would not be anywhere near the worst moment in Magic playoff history. Not even close.
Here are 10 moments in Magic playoff history that will live in infamy.
The lockout shortened year looked like a great one for the Magic. They finished 33-17 under coach Chuck Daly, and, due to a three way tie between the top teams in the East (Heat, Pacers, and Magic), they were relegated to the third seed to face the 76ers.
The Magic were only 1-2 against the Sixers in the regular season, and Allen Iverson, making his first playoff appearance, was steamrolling opponents despite the average 28-22 record.
The Magic were, for the first time since 1996, one of the top teams in the entire league and expectations were high, especially since that 1996 core was still somewhat intact with Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant and Nick Anderson.
But things didn't turn out so good. After splitting Games 1 and 2, the Sixers, led by Iverson's 33 points, five assists, five rebounds, two blocks and 10 steals (!), took the fight out of the Magic entirely. The Magic lost Game 3 of the best of five series 97-85 and eventually lost the series the next game by losing 101-91.
The loss was virtually the end of the '90s Magic that started to dissipate once Shaq left for Hollywood. It also continued a nasty trend started two years previous that would last until 2008: not getting out of the first round.
As Greg Anthony says in the video above, the Magic were their own worst enemy in many aspects of Game 2 of this '08 Semis clash. BUT, anyone can tell you that mentality is a large part of the game, especially against an opponent who beats you time and time again.
The Magic had blown a 3-1 lead to the Pistons in 2003, had lost to the Pistons in 2007 in a non-competitive sweep and had two embarrassing blowout losses to the Pistons during the regular season (the Magic won a blowout of their own and squeaked by with another victory to make the season series 2-2).
After the Magic had a 52 win season and got past the Raptors to make the second round for the first time since 1996, it was considered a great season, and that was it for many Magic fans. Not a lot was expected of a young Magic squad against a powerhouse like Detroit.
The Magic would indeed lose the series 4-1, but this Game 2 clock situation really took the wind out of the sails. Orlando would have had the lead and the confidence in the decisive fourth quarter against their constant bogey man.
But, alas, what's fair is fair. There is no way to prove what would have happened, and the Pistons got the job done, but as a Magic fan, seeing fate go to Detroit once again was heartbreaking.
The Magic were (luckily) one of only eight teams to beat the mighty Chicago Bulls in 1995-96, the year Michael Jordan's squad went 72-10.
But what is worse than being matched up with one of the greatest teams of all time? Being matched up with one of the greatest teams of all time who happen to have the greatest player of all time. Even worse? Being matched up with one of the greatest teams of all time who happens to have the greatest player of all time who has the largest chip on his shoulder ever.
While the 1995 Eastern Semis are legendary for Magic fans (in which the Magic beat the MJ Bulls and had an epic steal in Game 1 against his airness himself), it was disastrous for Michael. So much so that MJ basically reinvented himself and destroyed anyone in his path.
The Magic didn't even put up a fight. The power of Shaquille O'Neal and his sidekick Penny Hardaway could not defeat the mighty Bulls squad...not once.
Losing to the 72-10 Bulls is no shame, in the end, as that team was epic. But to not even win a game and present yourself in such a lopsided way (the Magic lost 121-83 in Game 1, 93-88 in Game 2, 86-67 in Game 3 and 106-101 with Brooks Thompson the Magic's third leading scorer (!)) is just shocking.
I know you're asking, "Didn't you win that series?"
And yes, the Magic thoroughly outplayed the Cavs in this Eastern Conference Finals series that helped the Magic clinch a second appearance in the NBA Finals.
But this shot wouldn't go away. It didn't matter that the Cavs blew a massive lead in Game 1 to lose at home or had to throw up that miracle to not fall down 0-2. And it didn't matter LeBron and company couldn't close an OT game in Game 4 and never lead in Game 6.
It also didn't matter that LeBron was a poor sport and didn't shake hands after the six game series.
What mattered was one of the marketable stars hit a big shot and it graced every highlight reel, every magazine, every almanac, every "best of" play, etc., even after the shot really meant nothing at all. In the end, LeBron tied a series at one a piece. After that, his team was history.
But the shot lived on. It was just another glowing example that ESPN and other media markets preferred marketable stars instead of better competition in the playoffs and Finals (remember that year's shameful Kobe vs. LeBron commercial campaign?).
Every time I saw this shot replayed and replayed, months after it went down, it made me as a Magic fan mad because it took away what the Magic accomplished. And that, in itself, is a terrible moment in Magic playoff history.
You just beat the No. 2 seed and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference without home court advantage and advanced to your first NBA Finals since 1995. What do you do?
Lay an egg? Not what I had in mind.
The Orlando Magic got their championship campaign off to a bad start by losing 100-75 to the soon to be champions in Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals.
The game was competitive in the first quarter with the Magic actually leading by two. But a 31-19 second quarter for the Lakers kept the Magic out of the game permanently.
As if it wasn't bad enough, Kobe burned the Magic for 40 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks, the Magic also shot the second worst FG percentage in NBA Finals history with 29 percentage of their baskets going in.
The Magic made up for it with a Game 3 win and two OT games (Games 2 and 4) but this game had them from behind...permanently.
The Magic had the advantage. They had height, strength, experience and a 3-1 regular season record. But they didn't have Rajon Rondo.
The Magic, after sweeping through the first two rounds with an 8-0 record and a history making second round destruction of the Atlanta Hawks, were primed and ready for the "aging" Celtics. But they promptly lost three straight, two of which were at home.
No one had ever comeback from 0-3 down, and it still hasn't been accomplished. The Magic fought hard enough to get to a Game 6 but were thoroughly dominated and embarrassed by a Celtics team who had, the year before, been humbled by the Magic.
Like Jordan in '96, the Celtics got their revenge, and even as the Magic won two in a row after being down 0-3, the Celtics knew history was on their side. So did the Magic, and that's why it hurt even more.
It was a Cinderella story, really. The eighth seed Orlando Magic had opened a 3-1 series lead against the No. 1 seed Detroit Pistons, a franchise looking to break out back onto the NBA elite scene.
It stung a bit that the NBA, of course, JUST changed the best of five series rules to best of seven (fate, how dare thee) because us Magic fans thought, "If only it was 2002, we'd be in the second round!'.
But you have to win four to advance, and Magic players and fans knew that but felt comfortable knowing they had to win only one of three to advance. Well, all Magic players except Tracy McGrady.
The oft-described "Me-Mac", who STILL has not been out of the first round, decided to go on TV and declare that he was "happy to be in the second round". And the curse of Detroit began and basically never ended.
The Magic lost Game 5 98-67! They lost Game 6 103-88 (*slaps head*). And they lost Game 7 (and the series) 108-93 (*gets the noose ready*).
Just thinking about McGrady's arrogance and blowing the chance to be the first No. 8 seed in NBA history to beat a No. 1 seed in a first round series still hurts to this day.
Were the Magic, as an eighth seed, supposed to win? No. But to lose after going up by that margin? The stuff of nightmares.
But not as much as...
*Go to 4:38 in the video.
Had you ever played basketball in your parents' driveway? And if you did, did you always do the "One to Tie, One to Win" free throw game where you pretending, with your own audio commentary of course, that the game was on the line and you made the winning free throws?
Well, I did, and being a terrible free throw shooter, I sometimes missed the "winning" basket and miraculously got the offensive rebound and had two more shots. The stuff of fantasy, yes?
Well, of course, unless you're Nick Anderson.
Lots of things went wrong for the Magic in Game 1 of the '95 Finals. Blowing a huge lead, allowing Kenny Smith to shoot, letting offensive rebounds go in OT. The list could go on.
But nothing was more defining of the Orlando Magic franchise from Game 1 in 1995 to Game 3 in 2009's Finals, than Nick Anderson's fantastical chance at only having to make one of four free throws to ice the Magic's first ever NBA Finals win.
I can't go on; just watch the video. I have to go cry again.
The reason why this game is higher than the infamous Nick Anderson free throws is because the Magic had a chance to tie the series at two games apiece and would have another game at home.
Once the Magic lost Game 1 to the Rockets in 1995, they were mentally done and never really competed again. But the Magic were IN this game and IN the series, until Derek Fisher did what Derek Fisher does best.
Of course, not in the video is Dwight Howard missing both of his potentially game-icing free throws (very Nick Andersonian of him), but Fisher hitting this shot to tie gave the Lakers the momentum in OT (much like in 1995), and the Magic eventually fell in a 1-3 hole and never came back.
These final seconds could have defined the Magic franchise in a new light. Instead, it resurrected old demons.
By far the WORST moment in Magic playoff history.