Cohen: A Chronicle of the 2008-09 Season (Part 5)
By Josh Cohen
ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic had overcome practically every impediment during the 2008-09 regular season and playoffs.
They marched forward following a crushing injury to their All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson.
They survived a scare from their First Round postseason opponent, the 76ers, and finished the series without their dominant center Dwight Howard, who was serving a one-game suspension.
They defied the odds when they eliminated the defending champion Celtics in a decisive Game 7 on the road to snap Boston’s perfect record when leading a series 3-2.
They advanced to the NBA Finals by defeating the league’s MVP, LeBron James, and his Cavaliers, who owned the best record during the regular season.
They surmounted unimaginable buzzer beaters, demanding big game double-digit deficits and postseason injuries.
In a span of about five weeks, the Magic had become one of the best sports stories of the decade. Thought to be too inexperienced and fragile, Orlando rose above the critics and for the second time in franchise history was playing on the NBA’s biggest stage.
Staring at them in the face was a mighty challenger with a chip on their shoulder. It was Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, who a year earlier was bounced in the NBA Finals by their archrivals, the Celtics.
And once again, the Magic were heavy underdogs. Not only was Kobe a frightening opponent, guys like Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Trevor Ariza and Derek Fisher were all playing significantly well throughout the postseason.
Orlando, however, got a huge boost when it was announced that Nelson was fully recovered and ready to return. While he wouldn’t start, Jameer’s presence was plenty for a team looking for some extra leadership.
And though Nelson’s six points in 23 minutes in Game 1 was a fantastic sidebar story, it was mostly forgotten after L.A. thrashed Orlando with a 25-point victory.
Bryant erupted for 40 points and his team held the Magic to just 29 percent shooting from the floor.
Sure, it was a deflating performance and yes, the Lakers looked unshakable. But, if we learned anything from the 2009 playoffs it was that the Magic were the most resilient team in the NBA.
And that attribute couldn’t have been more accurate in Game 2. The Magic fought tooth and nail and had the Lakers in a vulnerable spot in the closing moments.
After Hedo Turkoglu blocked Bryant in the final seconds with the game tied, Orlando had a chance to win it at the regulation buzzer but Courtney Lee’s angled layup attempt sailed strong off the glass. Lakers head coach Phil Jackson admitted later that Gasol should have been called for goaltending on that play.
It was a golden chance missed as the Lakers would run away in overtime and take a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Despite the setback, Orlando returned home and with an electric crowd behind it at Amway Arena earned its first ever NBA Finals victory in Game 3. Howard posted 21 points and 14 rebounds and Rashard Lewis tallied 21 points.
The Magic had already been involved in several all-time classics throughout the playoffs. But none of those would really compare to what transpired in Game 4.
On the verge of evening up the series after Turkoglu connected on two big shots to give Orlando a five-point lead with 90 seconds left, the events that unfolded afterwards would haunt the Magic for days and weeks later.
First with Orlando up three, Howard missed two free throws with 11 seconds remaining. Then on L.A.’s subsequent possession, Fisher raced up the court and drilled a cold-blooded game tying 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left. Pietrus’ jumper at the buzzer sailed long and for the second time in this series OT would be required.
And like those final seconds of regulation, it was Fisher again in the extra session to puncture the Magic’s hearts. He buried another trey with 31 ticks left to put L.A. ahead for good as the Lakers took a 3-1 series advantage.
Clearly devastated after the heartbreaker in Game 4, the Magic didn’t have enough in the engine to slow down a motivated bunch in purple and gold as the Lakers cruised in Game 5 and claimed their fourth championship of the decade.
Though Orlando fell short of its ultimate goal of winning the NBA title, it was an unforgettable run. That Magic team will forever be remembered for their resilience, fortitude and outstanding teamwork.
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