Cohen: A Chronicle of the 2008-09 Season (Part 2)
By Josh Cohen
ORLANDO -- There was some relief in Orlando when the playoff bracket was unveiled. While the later rounds appeared rather daunting for the Magic – considering they would likely not have home-court advantage after the opening round assuming there were no shocking upsets – they managed to avoid more menacing adversaries in that First Round.
For months there was some trepidation that Orlando would be matched up with Detroit, an opponent it had lost to in two straight years in the playoffs and three times over the course of the decade. But the Pistons, who earlier in the season traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, rapidly deteriorated toward the bottom of the East playoff race.
Another threatening challenger, the Chicago Bulls, were gradually improving behind rookie sensation Derrick Rose and a confident core that included Joakim Noah and Ben Gordon. In spite of a late surge in the regular season, the Bulls finished as the No. 7 seed and were forced to play the defending champion Boston Celtics in the conference quarterfinals.
Dodging those two teams meant a date with the Philadelphia 76ers, a young but extremely athletic squad. Led by a pair of Andre’s, Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller, the Sixers were ambitious and believed they had the composition to beat a half-court oriented team like the Magic as a result of their predilection to thrive when the game speeds up.
Shortly after Game 1 tipped off at Amway Arena, however, it sure looked like this series wouldn’t drag out too long. Behind some Dwight Howard rim-rocking and glossy post moves, the Magic raced in front and went ahead by as many as 18 in the third quarter.
Not before long, though, what initially appeared to be a Goliath pasting of a David suddenly transformed into a nightmarish scene commonly portrayed in a sports movie.
Rather swiftly and agonizingly, Orlando’s once considerable advantage disappeared. Philadelphia stormed back and tied it with less than four minutes remaining.
Though Howard kept on trucking, finishing the night with 31 points and 16 rebounds, the Sixers wouldn’t surrender. Unsung hero Donyell Marshall canned a game tying 3-pointer with 34 seconds left and after Rashard Lewis missed on Orlando’s next possession, Iguodala buried a game winning step-back jumper over the reach of Hedo Turkoglu with 2.2 ticks remaining.
Clearly stunned and provoked, the Magic bounced back in Game 2 with a solid effort. Rookie standout Courtney Lee led the charge with 24 points, while Lewis and Turkoglu each contributed with 16 a piece.
Though the Magic regained a degree of buoyancy, it was the Sixers who departed Florida with the advantage. They had stolen away the home court edge and were awaiting their electric crowd for Games 3 and 4.
And as the scene shifted to the Wachovia Center, now Wells Fargo Center, more drama would ensue between these two eager teams.
While Iguodala was the hero for Philly in Game 1, Game 3’s vanquisher was Thaddeus Young, who lifted the 76ers to a 2-1 series advantage with a game winning driving layup with two seconds left.
The panic meter moved up a notch as the Magic prepared for a critical Game 4. They knew the improbability of overcoming a 3-1 series deficit and figured it was now or never to take control against a pesky but determined Sixers squad.
And to nobody’s surprise Game 4 would also come down to a colossal play in the final seconds of a close contest. But unlike those preceding heartbreakers, this time it was Orlando that rose to the occasion.
With the pressure mounting, the Magic asked their very own Mr. Fourth Quarter, Turkoglu, to relieve all the tension. And like he had done throughout the season, Hedo accepted the responsibility and delivered.
Arguably the most significant single shot in the franchise’s history, Turk drilled a game winning 3-pointer with just over a second left as the Magic evened up this best-of-seven series.
And not only did this momentous shot alter the complexion of the series it demoralized the Sixers. It was apparent in Game 5 in Orlando when the Magic, behind a dominant 24-point, 24-rebound performance from Howard, cruised past Philly to regain the series lead.
Afterwards, however, things heated up off the court. Sixers head coach Tony DiLeo openly complained that Howard wasn’t being penalized for allegedly hanging out in the lane for three seconds on offense and defense.
He also stated he would ask the league to review an elbow Dwight landed on Samuel Dalembert.
A day later to the Magic’s surprise and to DiLeo and his team’s reward, the NBA did indeed decide to suspend Howard for that shot he dealt to Philly’s big man.
Therefore, the Magic would be forced to play without their imposing center for Game 6 in Philadelphia. They also would be without Lee, who was recovering from a fractured sinus after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head from Dwight during Game 5.
While most assumed it was a foregone conclusion the series would return to Amway Arena for a decisive Game 7, the resilient and reliable supporting cast in blue and white had other ideas.
No Superman, No Problem was the national headline after Game 6 as the Magic’s balanced attack and superb play from backup big man Marcin Gortat ended this series with a demolishment of the Sixers in their own building.
Though Orlando was relieved this series was complete, there wasn’t much time to celebrate with Boston ahead next on the journey.
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