Denton: Magic-Heat Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
March 3, 2011

MIAMI – When shots incredibly started falling in bunches and the defense on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade dramatically rose to suffocating levels, the Orlando Magic’s belief swelled that they could possibly pull off something historic Thursday night.

Remarkably, a Magic team given up for dead when it trailed the rival Miami Heat by 18 points at halftime and by as much as 24 points in the second half awoke from its slumber and pulled off a comeback win for the ages.

A second half that started as ``a playing for pride thing,’’ as Ryan Anderson put it, morphed into a monumental night as Orlando registered the second greatest comeback in franchise history and shockingly beat the hated Heat 99-96 at American Airlines Arena.

Once down 73-49 early in the third quarter, the Magic used runs of 22-7 (to end the third period) and 18-2 (to start the fourth quarter) – a shocking 40-9 spurt in all – for what very well could be the biggest regular-season victory in franchise history.

``It was about us imposing our will on them,’’ said point guard Jameer Nelson, who had 12 of his 16 points in the second half. ``When you start making shots you are going to have confidence, but it was about us imposing our will on defense and taking the challenge. This comeback shows what we’re capable of doing when we’re zoned in and willing to do it.’’

The 24-point rally just missed equaling the all-time Magic record. Orlando’s comeback from 25 points down on Nov. 8, 1989 in Cleveland is the all-time franchise record. This victory easy outdistanced the Magic’s previous biggest rally of the season – a battle back from 16 points in Dallas on Jan. 8.

``This is one of these games that I’ll still remember 10 years from now when I’ve already forgotten everything but all of the losses,’’ giddy Magic coach San Van Gundy said through a chuckle. ``I’ll always remember this win.’’

Orlando (40-22) won for a fourth straight time, but only because they held James (29 points) and Wade (28 points) to just a combined 10 points in the second half after the dynamic Heat duo had 47 points in the first half. Wade (0 for 6) did not have a field goal in the second half and James (0 for 2) did not score in the fourth quarter. James missed a wide-open 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds remaining, giving the Magic the victory and setting off a wild celebration at midcourt and later in the locker room.

``It was definitely a great show of resilience by the team,’’ said Magic forward Quentin Richardson, who hit a crucial 3-pointer with 2:41 to play and generally made life miserable for James with his defense. ``We got down against a great team, but we didn’t go away. I’ve been in the league long enough to know there’s another half to play. We said, `Let’s keep making shots, play good defense and keep chipping away. It was huge for us to do what we did.’’

The Magic, who evened the season series with Miami at 2-all, got 24 points and six 3-pointers from shooting guard Jason Richardson. Point guard Jameer Nelson scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half. Superstar center Dwight Howard had 14 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks and his biggest contribution might have been his season-high five assists out of Miami double teams.

``I remembered our first game here (a 96-70 loss on Oct. 29) and I told the guys before the game that we couldn’t get embarrassed like that again,’’ Howard said. ``I thought they were going to do that to us again most of the night, but thank God that we were able to wake up and get a big win.’’

Things don’t get any easier Friday night when the Magic host the Chicago Bulls (41-18) at the Amway Center.

Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from a victory that will go down in Magic history as one of the greatest ones ever: