In the three seasons since Rashard Lewis joined the Orlando Magic, the team has posted a winning percentage of .691 and won six playoff series. And while one can't attribute Orlando's improvement in that span solely to Lewis--coach Stan Van Gundy came aboard the same summer, and the development of franchise cornerstone Dwight Howard is also key--it's frankly impossible to overlook Lewis' contributions to the team. Today, OPP looks back at his five best games as part of an occasional, retrospective series highlighting top Magic performances. And, potentially underscoring Lewis' contributions to the team, all five of these performances come from the postseason, despite the fact that I did not limit this exercise to the playoffs.
|Game No. 5: Apr. 30, 2009, at Philadelphia 76ers|
Here, we see Lewis cleaning up for Howard. The blowout victory--on the road, no less--completed the Magic's comeback from a 2-1 series deficit against the 76ers, but heading in, Orlando appeared to be in trouble, as Howard received a league suspension for elbowing Philadelphia's Samuel Dalembert in the previous game. Lewis became the focal point of the Magic's offensive attack, and the result proved lethal. Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young provide Philadelphia with solid defense, but neither could contain Lewis in the low post, where he effectively replaced Howard in the offense. Only three of his 22 shot attempts came from beyond the arc, which attests to the adjustments Van Gundy had to make in the wake of Howard's suspension; in his Magic career, 50.5% of Lewis' shots have come from long range.
The attack was an exercise in precision. Lewis used his post moves to score around Young, or attacked him off the dribble when muscled out of his spot. When Philly double-teamed, he made on-point passes to the open man on the weak side. He wasn't dominant, nor was he the sole reason Orlando emerged victorious that night. But he was indeed a huge factor in the Magic's advancing.
If you're interested, I recommend taking another look at this piece I wrote before the game about the opportunity Howard's suspension afforded Lewis. It's one of the posts I'm most proud of in my blogging career.
|Game No. 4: May. 7, 2008, vs. Detroit Pistons|
For Orlando, the bright spots were few and far-between in their 4-1 loss to the Detroit Pistons in this Eastern Conference Semifinals series, but Lewis' incredible eruption in its lone victory inspired hope that it could overcome the 2-0 deficit it faced entering the game. Lewis proved in the Philadelphia game highlighted above that he can be effective while limiting his three-point looks, but on this night, his three-pointer was key. 33 points on the night, on an estimated 19 shooting possessions. Remarkable efficiency. Indeed, in the last three postseasons, Lewis is one of five players to score 30-plus points with 15 or fewer field-goal attempts and 10 or fewer free-throw attempts. What's more, he broke out in a rather unexpected way; he didn't score more than 27 points in any of his 81 regular-season games with the Magic, but here he is, in his eighth playoff game in Magic blue, dropping 33.
|Game No. 3: May 8, 2009, vs. Boston Celtics|
Perhaps Lewis' raw numbers here don't wow you. I get that. 28 points is well above his average, sure, but in a vacuum? An All-Star forward dropping 28 on 9-of-17 shooting in a playoff game is reasonably routine. But, as always, context matters here. And in this context, Orlando had stolen home-court advantage from the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals with an eye-opening win in Game 1. Though they were on the business end of the hammer Boston dropped in Game 2, they had an opportunity heading into this game to take a commanding 2-1 lead.
Which is exactly what happened, thanks largely to Lewis.
Again, a fairly nondescript game by NBA standards, and if you'd rather list this one a few slots back, I wouldn't necessarily contest it too much. But considering that the Magic faced a stiff test against Boston on the road to their first NBA Finals appearance in recent team history, and considering that Lewis keyed a rather significant win in that series, I've listed it here.
|Game No. 2: May 20, 2009, at Cleveland Cavaliers|
But even after toppling the Celtics, the Magic still had to get past the Cavaliers in order to reach the Finals. The first 30 minutes or so of that series, however, did little to inspire confidence in the Magic's pursuit of that goal. They trailed by 15 points at halftime and looked utterly lost. But the defense on everyone except LeBron James tightened, the three-pointers started dropping, and Orlando had narrowed the gap to four points headed to the fourth quarter.
And then Lewis took over. He made all five of his shots in the period, scoring 12 of Orlando's 29 points. And, more than that, hit the game-winning three after a well-executed rocker step forced the defending Anderson Varejao to shift his weight back ever so slightly. Mo Williams' runner on the Cavs' ensuing possession almost found the bottom of the net--this detail is too often overlooked, in my opinion--which means Orlando truly won the game by mere millimeters. Regardless, Lewis sparked the most impressive postseason comeback in modern Magic history, and capped it off with the clinching bucket to boot. On the road, too.
|Game No. 1: June 7, 2009, at L.A. Lakers|
|L, 101-96 (OT)||45||34||11||7||1||0||12/21||6/12|
I don't think you can argue against this game being tops among Lewis' performances with the Magic. There ought not be any debate here. The Magic lost this game in overtime--memorably, Courtney Lee's wide-open lob layup attempt at the end of regulation was well off the mark--but we aren't necessarily counting wins and losses in these evaluations. Understand that this game is an unmitigated disaster, along the lines of the Game 1 blowout, without Lewis' white-hot shooting. He tallied 34 points to lead all scorers, which still stands as his highest mark in a Magic uniform. And yet the raw numbers don't do enough justice to how crucial he was to Orlando in this hard-fought defeat. Thankfully, we have Popcorn Machine, in addition to our own brains, to fill in the traditional box score's gaps. Lewis scored 18 of the Magic's 20 second-period points, on 7-of-10 shooting, while his teammates sputtered to a 1-of-13 mark. The Magic trailed the Lakers by a mere five points at intermission, and rallied in the third quarter to make the game more competitive. As in, having a two-point lead with 47 seconds remaining.
Lewis' highlights from the night, which Eddy Rivera helpfully posted last week at MagicBasketball.net, are at once uplifting and disheartening for Magic fans. No Magic player has matched Lewis' scoring output in this game in nine games of NBA Finals play, and had Orlando managed to knock off L.A. on this night and take Game 3 at home, as they did, it may well have hoisted a championship banner on opening night last fall. As it stands, Lewis almost single-handedly won a Finals game for his team, which helps to demonstrate why the team committed a maximum-salary contract to him over six seasons in the summer of 2007.