By Josh Cohen
August 22, 2011
ORLANDO -- When first glancing at the 1995 NBA playoff bracket, it was vitalizing to see the Orlando Magic with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Like any legitimate NBA championship contender, the Magic seemed to have all the necessary pieces.
They featured a dominant big man (Shaquille O’Neal) to compete with the other governing centers (Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon, New York’s Patrick Ewing and San Antonio’s David Robinson), a silky smooth and blossoming point guard (Penny Hardaway) to create matchup problems for any opponent and an assortment of savvy veterans (Nick Anderson, Horace Grant among others) to provide the intangibles.
However, you couldn’t help but feel some degree of panic if you were a Magic fan.
First off, unlike other No. 1 playoff seeds in NBA history, the Magic had never won a postseason game. Some, as a result, wondered if Orlando had the resilience to overcome pressure-packed playoff moments.
Second, the bracket was somewhat daunting.
Though legends like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were no longer ruling the hardwood in Beantown, the Boston Celtics still posed as a threat to the Magic in the First Round.
And if Orlando advanced to the conference semifinals, there was a strong chance Michael Jordan, who had recently returned from his year-and-a-half hiatus, and his invigorated Chicago Bulls would be waiting in the wings.
First things first, however, Orlando knew not to neglect its First Round adversary despite so much hype about its anticipated showdown with Chicago in the subsequent round.
Just one year earlier, the world watched a No. 8 seed eliminate a No. 1 seed for the first time in NBA history when the Denver Nuggets stunned the Seattle Supersonics. In effect, there was no absolutely no reason to suggest that it was a foregone conclusion that the Magic would coast against the Celtics.
Since it was the final year they would play in the renowned Boston Garden, the Celtics, then led by All-Star transplant Dominique Wilkins, hoped to utilize this emotional attachment in their favor.
Any concern that the Magic would capitulate under the postseason spotlight quickly vanished in Game 1.
From the opening tipoff to the final buzzer, Orlando brutally dismantled Boston to earn its first ever playoff victory in franchise history.
Aside from superb performances from O’Neal (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Anderson (20 points), the Magic got help from everyone who stepped on the court. Eight players scored in double figures, Grant compiled 14 rebounds and Orlando limited Boston to 77 points.
Any postseason anxiety had no adverse effect on the Magic in Game 1, but perhaps some excessive buoyancy did in Game 2.
On an emotional high after crushing the Celtics in the first game of this best-of-five series, Orlando weren’t ready for an irritated and recharged Boston squad in Game 2 at Orlando Arena.
While Hardaway enjoyed a spectacular performance with 26 points and eight assists, the Magic didn’t get as much balance as they did in Game 1.
Wilkins guided the C’s with 24 points and Sherman Douglas posted 20 points and 15 assists.
Heading into a pivotal Game 3 at the Boston Garden, all the momentum was with the Celtics after stealing away home-court advantage.
Facing nearly 50 years of Celtic tradition and Garden mystique, the Magic knew winning on Boston’s home floor would be no easy task.
With a raucous crowd present to try and disrupt Orlando’s quest to regain control of the series, it was up to the Magic to prove they can handle the pressure-packed moments of a close and important game.
They handled it with prestige.
Anderson buried a game-tying 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining, Hardaway swatted away Wilkins’ potential go-ahead shot on the next possession and Shaq flushed home a thunderous two-handed slam off a missed jumper as the Magic ultimately silenced the Celtics to take a 2-1 series lead.
Confident they could wrap up this First Round series in Game 4, the Magic wanted to be the last team to ever win at the Boston Garden.
And in dramatic fashion they did just that as O’Neal and Grant combined for 48 points and Douglas’ last-second potential game-tying 3-point attempt for Boston rimmed off to send Orlando to the conference semifinals.
While there was temporary jubilation after claiming their first ever playoff series triumph, the Magic quickly started focusing on the next obstacle.
As expected, that encumbrance would turn out to be Jordan and the mighty Bulls.
STAY TUNED FOR PART III – CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS VS. CHICAGO
After finishing off the Celtics, what were your thoughts of the Magic heading into their series with the Bulls?