Cohen: A Chronicle of the 2008-09 Season (Part 4)
By Josh Cohen
ORLANDO -- While advancing past the defending champion Boston Celtics was considered a surprise to most, the prospect of winning a series against the Cleveland Cavaliers was alleged to be improbable.
That’s to no one’s demise, however. The Cavs all season looked unshakable. LeBron James earned his first league MVP award and while his supporting cast wasn’t superb by any stretch they seemed to have the right blend to celebrate in June.
This was confirmed over the first two rounds. Cleveland demolished Detroit and Atlanta in back-to-back sweeps. Despite no championships in any major sport in Cleveland since 1964 when the Browns won it all, there was plenty of premature commemoration spread across the city that spring.
And that impulsive festivity carried well into Game 1 when the Cavaliers stormed out of the gate and took a commanding 15-point halftime lead.
Almost in a flash, however, that rash celebrating at Quicken Loans Arena converted into panic and aggravation.
Refusing to surrender, the Magic rallied and as the game reached its most pivotal moments, it was Orlando’s resilience that prevailed over Cleveland’s early momentum.
Like it had done all postseason long leading into the conference finals, Orlando proved clutch once again. Rashard Lewis buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14.7 seconds left and Mo Williams’ last-second shot attempt rimmed off as the Magic stole away home court advantage.
Game 1 was an instant classic indeed. But if that is a precise marker for the opener, then what transpired in Game 2 warrants far greater tribute.
Once again, spirit and buoyancy lifted Orlando out of an early double-digit deficit. And Hedo Turkoglu’s two huge shots – one a 3-pointer to tie it with 48 seconds left and a go-ahead jumper in the lane with a second remaining -- seemed like enough drama for one night.
The Magic were on the verge of the unimaginable – two road wins in a hostile environment before returning home.
LeBron had other ideas, however.
In a sudden shift of momentum, James drilled a game winning shot at the buzzer. It instantly became the most replayed single play in NBA history.
Most assumed LeBron’s heroic moment was the crash that would derail the Magic. How can you blame anyone for having that supposition? A loss like that was implicitly heartbreaking.
But instead of weep, the Magic returned home, bandaged up the bruise and went back to work.
Sick of seeing replays of LeBron’s dramatic buzzer-beater, the Magic pounced all over the Cavs in Game 3. Dwight Howard scored 24 points and Rafer Alston tallied 18 as Orlando reclaimed momentum to take a 2-1 series lead.
Relieved to some extent after bouncing back from the Game 2 stunner, the Magic figured Game 4 would be even more grueling. Only eight times in NBA history had a team overcome a 3-1 series deficit.
And they were right from the start. The Cavs came out on fire. Led by James, Cleveland went ahead by eight at the break and you wondered if it would finally secure a halftime lead.
But again the Magic had an answer and once more it would come down to big shots in big moments.
Lewis connected on a go-ahead corner 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds left before James, who was tripped up on his drive to the basket by Mickael Pietrus, calmly drained two free throws with 0.5 remaining to even up the score. Regulation would end with a controversial no-call as Howard and Anderson Varejao got tangled up near the basket.
Perhaps irritated after that play, Howard went on a tear in the extra session – scoring 10 of his 27 points in OT – and James’ last-second heave from near half court sailed left as Orlando seized Game 4 and a 3-1 series lead.
After the Cavs survived with a Game 5 victory at home, it was up to the Magic and their fans at Amway Arena to put the icing on the cake rather than return to Cleveland for a decisive Game 7.
It didn’t take long for Orlando to avoid the unfavorable. Howard dominated with 40 points and 14 rebounds, the Magic buried 12 3-pointers and LeBron looked deflated all night long as Orlando finished off Cleveland to advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history.
This was a huge accomplishment for the Magic. And even though many believed they already exceeded expectations, the Magic felt this was just one more step towards their ultimate goal.
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