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Rob Peterson

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

To climb from big Finals hole, Magic need history lesson

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Jun 8 2009 10:46AM

Once again this postseason, the Orlando Magic find themselves at odds with history. Only this time, it's not likely history will want to reconcile.

After their 101-96 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2, the Magic find themselves in a 2-0 hole heading into Game 3 Tuesday in Orlando (9 p.m. ET, ABC). Prior to this year's series, 30 teams have started The Finals down two and only the 1969 Celtics, the 1977 Trail Blazers and the 2006 Heat have climbed from such a hole to win the series.

And now, the Magic are the 31st. They're also the fifth team in the last five Finals to give their opponents a two-game head start.

From 20 turnovers to seven missed free throws to a missed lay-up off an alley-oop as time expired in regulation, it wasn't as if the Magic didn't have their chances.

"I told them the bottom line was we knew we were going to have to win in L.A.," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "Bottom line is we came here for two games and didn't get the job done."

For a franchise that is zero-for-six in Finals games, winning the series against a team that has a four-game winning streak is daunting. Especially since the Magic will need to win the next three at home or go two-of-three in Orlando and then take two in Los Angeles.

Sound frightening? It is. But if any team could forget about such a deficit, it could be these Magic. In this year's Eastern Conference semifinals, the Magic became the first team in NBA history to beat the Celtics after falling behind 3-2 to Boston.

They can also look to the previous three comeback kings for inspiration. Only the '69 Celtics needed a full seven games to take the series and the '06 Heat were the second team in Finals history to win the middle three games at home.

"We have to go home and have a great Game 3," Van Gundy said. "I've seen series turn. I was still in Miami, not doing a damn thing, but I was in Miami when they lost both games to Dallas and [the Heat] way down in the third quarter in Game 3 at home, came back and won that one.

"Dallas never won another game."

Kobe Bryant knows the Magic won't be concentrating on how many games they have to win, but the fact Orlando needs to win one.

"This is a very loosey-goosey team we're playing against," Bryant said.

"You saw some of the shots they hit [on Sunday]. Those are tough shots ... or supposed to be tough shots. For them, it's like shooting fish and barrel. They're just thinking about Game 3. And so are we."

If the specter of Kobe doesn't motivate them, a front-office figure may. Orlando assistant general manager Dave Twardzik played a key role in 1977 when Portland stormed back from its 0-2 hole to defeat Julius Erving, George McInnis and the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.

Teams to come back from 2-0 deficit to win series
Matchup Year Round
Fort Wayne vs. St. Louis 1956 Western Finals (best-of-5)
Boston vs. Los Angeles 1969 NBA Finals
Los Angeles vs. San Francisco 1969 Western Semifinals
Baltimore vs. New York 1971 Eastern Finals
Portland vs. Philadelphia 1977 NBA Finals
Golden State vs. Utah 1987 Western First Round (best-of-5)
New York vs. Boston 1990 Eastern First Round (best-of-5)
Phoenix vs. L.A. Lakers 1993 Western First Round (best-of-5)
Chicago vs. New York 1993 Eastern Finals (best-of-5)
Denver vs. Seattle 1994 Western First Round (best-of-5)
Houston vs. Phoenix 1994 Western Semifinals
Houston vs. Phoenix 1995 Western Semifinals
Dallas vs. Utah 2001 Western First Round (best-of-5)
Los Angeles vs. San Antonio 2004 Western Semifinals
Washington vs. Chicago 2005 Eastern First Round
Dallas vs. Houston 2005 Western First Round
Miami vs. Dallas 2006 NBA Finals
Utah vs. Houston 2007 Western First Round
Cleveland vs. Detroit 2007 Eastern Finals
San Antonio vs. New Orleans 2008 Western Semifinals
Of the above teams, Boston in 1968, 1969, and 1981, Portland in 1977, Chicago in 1993, Houston in 1994 and 1995 and Miami in 2006 won the NBA Championship that year.

Twardzik, a guard, averaged 10.9 points and shot .591 in that postseason and gave credit to Trail Blazers coach Jack Ramsay for getting that team back to basics.

"I think a big part of it came from Jack," Twardzik said. "It was not a desperate move on Jack's part to totally rework either offensively or defensively what we were trying to do. In those first two games, we had not played our game.

"We continued to practice the way we did and we got a huge boost when we came back. In the first game back, we won by 20-something and the second game back we won by 30-something, so our confidence was sky-high."

The Blazers decimated the Sixers by 22 in Game 3 and by 32 in Game 4. By the time Game 5 in Philly rolled around, the Blazers had regained their confidence and style. Ramsay, now an ESPN radio analyst, noted his simple message after those first two losses.

"My thinking going back to Portland was let's not change anything except how we play," Ramsay said. "My message to the players was: 'Let's play our game. Let's defend, let's rebound, let's fast break, let's execute in the half-court like we know we can."

That sounds exactly how Dwight Howard describes the Magic. They rebound, run and defend. Orlando didn't do any of that in Game 1, but showed flashes of that style in Game 2.

"I don't think as a team we've played all that well during the entire Playoffs," Twardzik said. "In spurts we have and maybe in an isolated game we have. But as far as playing as well as we can, I don't think we're playing as well as we can just yet. I'm very confident.

"Our group is very resilient. They don't get too high on wins and too low on losses. It's pretty much an even keel."

Twardzik says the '77 Blazers used the fact that they beat the Sixers 146-102 in their only regular-season meeting in Portland as encouragement.

This past season, the Magic took both games against the Lakers. The Magic know they can beat L.A. It's just a question of if can they beat the Lakers in The Finals.

"We just got to go home and take care of business," Howard said. "The Lakers did a goo job of protecting their home and now it's our turn to do the same thing.

"We've been in some tough situations. We've just got to fight our way out."

Bryant is ready to prevent the Magic from becoming the fourth team to rally from a 2-0 deficit to win The Finals.

"The job is not finished," Bryant said. "Is the job finished? I don't think so."

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